Trusting God with Your College Student

Note: If your kids aren’t quite ready for college, you might want to check out a couple of posts from the archives. Click here for some tips on hosting a back-to-school prayer party and here for some timeless wisdom from bestselling author Rebekah Lyons and Moms in Prayer president Sally Burke, who talked with me about how we can help our kids when they struggle with worry or fear.

Back to school prayers

I remember telling my father that I wanted to attend the University of Virginia. The school had recently topped Playboy magazine’s annual catalog of the “best” college party spots, and my dad was understandably concerned. Making matters worse (for me) was the fact that one of his closest friends–a minister–had sent his son to U.Va., and the fella had gotten into all kinds of mischief. “I wouldn’t send my dog to that school,” the minister had warned, and I thought I was doomed.

Two things, though, worked in my favor. The first was the fact that I knew the minister’s son, and he turned out okay. He had graduated, gotten married, and then gone to seminary. God clearly had his hand on that boy’s life, and I figured he could watch out for me too.

The second thing I had was a working knowledge of Scripture and a willingness to use it, even out of context: “‘Where sin abounded,'” I told my father, quoting Romans 5:20, “‘grace did much more abound.’

“Come on, Dad,” I said. “Don’t you want me to go to a school where God’s grace abounds?”

I won in the end (probably more because U.Va. was the least expensive school on my list than because of the whole sin-and-grace thing) and as it turned out, U.Va. had–and still has–a thriving Christian community. God blessed me with two very smart (and pretty funny) roommates who posted party-relevant SAT words and Bible verses in our apartment foyer (corybantic described “frenzied and unrestrained” dance moves; Proverbs 23 warned of “needless bruises” and other perils of drinking), where anyone who stopped by could read them. Between their friendship and God’s mercy (and despite my making a boatload of stupid decisions), I graduated, got a job, married Robbie, and never thought much about the college party culture again.

Until my own kids grew up.

Could God be trusted to care for my college daughter?

Dropping our eldest, Hillary, off at college–amid a sea of red Solo cups–I had all sorts of questions. Had the party scene gotten worse? Would she be exposed to a lot of drugs? Sexual pressure? Worldviews and social norms that ran counter to the way she’d been raised? And was the same God who had kept both me and the minister’s kid from falling into a spiritual (or physical!) ditch still on the job? Could I trust him to care for my daughter?

Pretty much the only answer I was sure about was that yes, God was still on the job, and that he could be trusted. Suddenly, though, all of the Bible promises about God being “with us” seemed more important than ever. I found myself praying verses like Joshua 1:9 over my girl: Do not let Hillary be afraid or discouraged. Be with her wherever she goes.

I asked God to help her be alert and sober-minded, able to resist the devil and stand firm in the faith. (1 Peter 5:8-9).

And I prayed for wisdom and discernment, so that Hillary would be equipped to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

I asked God for all sorts of things–physical health and safety, good friendships, academic success–taking God at his word when he tells us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. And, when I’d get weary or wonder if my prayers were making a difference, I drew courage from Jesus’ exhortation that we should “always pray and not give up.”

(That last verse, Luke 18:1, is especially helpful when you send a child to college and they don’t call or text you for more than a week.)

(Ask me how I know.)

Pray with the destination in mind

I think one of the keys to praying effectively “on all occasions” (and to persevering in prayer when everything in you wants to give up) is to be destination oriented, rather that process oriented. We need to leave room for God to move however he chooses. The goal when we pray for our kids–whether we’re sending them off to the first day of preschool or the last year of college–is that they will have a saving relationship with Jesus, one that increasingly informs and animates their thoughts, words, and deeds.

The goal when we pray for our kids

Some of our children will get to God (or get back to God) by walking the straight and narrow; for others, the path may be crooked, painful, and even sometimes dangerous. I talked with one mom who is convinced that God sometimes takes our kids down paths we would not have chosen to keep us from patting ourselves on the back. “We cannot glory-steal from God,” she says. “When our kids come to Christ in a way that only he could have arranged because it looks nothing like we would have hoped for or envisioned, we are much more inclined to give him the credit.”

When you pray for your children in this big-picture way, you trust him to accomplish his best purposes in their lives, no matter how many detours they take, or how many times they may get tripped up along the way. As you pray, though, remember that our kids aren’t the only ones who will face temptation. We will too.

We’ll be tempted to blame ourselves for our kids’ mistakes and second-guess our parenting choices.

We’ll be tempted to live in a world of regrets and “if onlys”, ignoring God’s power (and his desire) to redeem.

And when it looks like nothing is happening and we start to grow weary, we’ll be tempted to give up on the power of prayer.

But let’s not.

Let’s stand firm, knowing that our labor in the Lord is never in vain. It doesn’t matter whether the bad choices in life belong to our kids or to us, or how big the sin is. God loves us. And his grace has us covered.

Looking back on my college experience, I still like the idea that “grace abounds even more.” But I looked up Romans 5:20 in The Message, and as I pray my all-grown-up children (and my all-grown-up self) through life’s tempatations and stumbles, I think I like this translation even better:  “When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.”

❤️

P.S. This post and the prayers it contains are excerpted from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. From now until August 31, my friends at FaithGateway are running a back-to-school special on that title, as well as Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens and Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenWhen you order any book, you’ll get 47% off the cover price, plus a bunch of freebies to help you pray specifically, and confidently, for your children.

Back to school prayer kit

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating as we send the people we love back to school:  Our prayers release God’s provision. And as we pray, we discover his peace.

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A Word for the Weary (plus a prayer plan for August)

Maybe it’s the heat, but everywhere I turn–from my DMs and text messages to casual convos with the lady at the post office–people seem to be weary. Not the good kind of weary, like the tiredness you get after a hard day’s work in the garden (or even at the computer), but the the sluggish kind of weary that feels kin to discouragement, or even defeat. The kind that comes with long seasons of waiting. Uncertainty over the future. Relationship ruts. Heat.

The kind of weary that settles in when life just feels hard and you wonder where God is in the mix, or what he is doing.

If you’ve been around this space for awhile, you know I’ve given up trying to figure out what God is doing (or at least I’ve tried to; I still catch myself with questions more often that I want to admit). But I have not let go of my desire to anchor my trust in his promises. Promises like Isaiah 26:3, which says that God will keep us in perfect peace as we trust in him.

If you were one of the more than 20,000 people who prayed the scriptures in July as part of our 31 Days of Prayer, you may remember that verse from Day 28:

Prayer for trusting God Isaiah 26:3

Keep me in perfect peace, even when I don’t know what you are doing. (Isaiah 26:3)

Or Day 18, which featured a prayer for hearing God’s voice:

Isaiah 30:21 prayer for listening to God

Whether I turn to the right or the left, may I hear your voice, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

If you you missed the July challenge, you can download the daily prayer calendar hereBut if you want a new plan–a fresh approach for August (and even beyond)–might I suggest praying your way through the Psalms?

The OG Prayer Book

Think of the Psalms as the OG Prayer Book.

Jesus prayed the Psalms. So did the early church. And so have countless Christians through the ages, in times of weeping and laughter, disappointment and hope, pain and victory. “The Psalms express every human emotion,” writes Tish Harrison Warren, “but, taken up again and again, they never simply leave us as we are. They are strong medicine. They change us.”

Warren is an Anglican priest and the author of a book called A Prayer in the Night. She says it’s not like the Psalms take grieving people and make them “annoyingly peppy and optimistic.” Instead, she writes, the Psalms “form us into a people who can hold the depths of our sorrow with utter honesty even as we hold onto the promises of God.”

As someone who knows what it’s like to live in the tension between weariness, grief, or discouragement while still trusting in God’s goodness and love, I appreciate that perspective. I’ve actually been spending some time in the Psalms this summer (with 150 of them, it’s not like the well is apt to run dry), and they’ve given me fresh reason to stake my faith in God’s word. For instance, when I ran my own weariness and uncertainty through the filter of just two little verses in Psalm 19, I found refreshment, wisdom, gladness, and understanding.

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
reviving the soul.

The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

The commandments of the Lord are right,
bringing joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are clear,
giving insight for living.

 

God's instructions revive our weary soul (Psalm 19:7)

God’s word restores us. It can be trusted. It brings us joy. It lights up our way, showing us how to live.

And it helps us pray.

Consider this your invitation to join me in praying your way through the Psalms as we round out the summer. If you’re feeling the heat–literally, or metaphorically in the face of weariness, uncertainty, or anything else that might be sapping your strength–you don’t have to look farther than the first few verses to find your footing. Here’s Psalm 1:2-3 (how’s that for an easy 1-2-3 reference?), expressed as a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

May I delight in your word, meditating on it day and night, so I will be like a tree planted by streams of water. May I bear fruit without withering and prosper in all that I do.

Amen

Psalm 1:2-3

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Printable Prayers for Your Thanksgiving Table

(In case you missed these last year, I’m sliding into your inbox with a set of printable prayers for your Thanksgiving table–or wrap ’em up as a hostess gift if you’re not doing the cooking!)

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

Robbie and I are gearing up to host our whole crew:  Two sets of newlyweds, extended in-laws, a couple of grandbabies, and at least one pair of very sleep-deprived parents. Plus, we’ve got an assortment of four-legged guests. Tilly the Quarantine Kitty is making the trek from the Big Apple and bringing her brand-new bunkmate:

Rugby the Big Apple Puppy

It’s shaping up to be the good kind of crazy.

Except…the dishwasher is leaking.

As is the puppy.

Which is why I am glad I still have last year’s set of printable prayers. I might be up to my eyeballs in dirty dishes and puppy pee pads, but at least the Thanksgiving table has a chance to look good!

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

Even more than that, the prayer cards serve tangible reminders of what Alexander Macleran, the great British preacher, called “the crowded kindnesses of God.”

The printable prayers include thirteen different 5″ x 7″ cards featuring topics like protection, diligence, kindness, salvation, and gratitude. I tucked a card into each place setting last year; they’d also be fun to “hide” under plates for folks to discover when they help clear the dishes. And who knows? Maybe your guests might even be nudged to use the cards to pray for each other before the tryptophan coma sets in!

prayer cards

Click here to download the prayer cards on your laptop or home computer (the file is too big to work on a phone).

And as you reflect on God’s crowded kindnesses–his provision, his mercy, his love–may you continue to be rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith, and overflowing with thankfulness! (Colossians 2:6-7)

❤️

P.S.  The printable prayers make a nice teacher or hostess gift, especially if you print them on quality card stock and add a  display easel. I found this gold one on Amazon (it comes in a package of six):

Prayer Cards with gold easel

And psst…I’m also working on an Advent-themed printable exclusively for email subscribers. Be on the lookout for that one in the next week or so–assuming the new puppy doesn’t eat my homework!

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Does God really want to hear us complain?

Does God really want to hear us complain?

That’s one of the questions Valerie Woerner tackles in her new book, Pray Confidently & Consistently. Earlier this week, I invited Val to join me as a guest on my IG Live series, Conversations on Prayer. I’d read her book, and I was eager to pick her brain about how we can experience a more rich and satisfying prayer life.

IG Live with Valerie Woerner

We covered all sorts of ground, from why we pray to how we can let go of the things that hold us back. Things like feeling like we have to clean up our act to come to God (or like it’s not cool to complain)…uncertainty about what we should pray for…or wondering whether God even hears our prayers when we don’t see anything happening.

If you missed our conversation, you can watch it on my IGTV (scroll to the bottom of this post for the how-to’s if this is new tech for you…it is for me!). And in the meantime, I thought you might enjoy quick snippet of wisdom from the new book. I don’t have space to print the whole thing, but here are some highlights from Chapter 6…

Pray Confidently & Consistently book

Learning to Lament, Doubt, and Cry Out to God

Val admits, right off the top, that she is a “great complainer” – but that she would “never” complain to God.

“Why would I”” she writes. “How could I? How tacky! How classless! How…much like David, the man after God’s own heart.”

It’s true. The Psalms are full of lamenting and “Why, God?” prayers. (Check out Psalm 13 if you need a for instance.) And that was tricky for Val. She didn’t understand why God would welcome a prayer marked by complaining, doubt, or lament – at least not until she recognized that when we make it look like we have it all together, we miss out on a closer connection with God.

“When someone sees all your quirks and habits and sticks with you,” she writes, “it deepens the intimacy because you know how fully loved you are.” The alternative – attempting to seal off our closet of complaints from God’s sight (even though we know nothing is hidden from him) – prevents us from fully experiencing and enjoying that love.

Why we complain

Our questions, confusion, and even complaints can never shock God. He formed our minds; he knows we don’t know everything. And so, Val concludes, “I think he responds with patience, much as we do with our kids, knowing that their understanding is limited.”

Which is, she says, the nutshell explanation for why we complain:  We complain because we don’t see the full picture.

“If we did see everything,” Val writes, “I think we’d agree with God’s plan, but instead we see just a snippet. We ache as we feel the pain in our own lives, lives that feel like all we have because we can’t imagine how they fit into the larger picture of eternity.”

So what do we do? How do we make sure our moments of sadness and doubt look like David’s lament (which God honored) and not the Israelites’ whining to Moses (which got them in trouble with God)?

Four Essentials in Healthy Lament

Val outlines four steps for effectively shaping complaints into prayers that God longs to hear:

First… Go Directly to God

There are things we feel perfectly comfortable complaining to our family about; in Val’s case, it was the rain (okay, hurricane) that ruined their beach trip. But bugging God with this stuff? That just feels petty.

And yet, Val says, who we take our complaints to matters. God is waiting to change our hearts. He knows, she writes, that “any hope of transforming our complaints and whines into heart-changing laments is going to come in his presence. If we want gratitude and faith to replace the entitlement or doubts in our hearts, it will only happen when we take these things to the one who created those hearts.

Transforming complaints into heart-changing laments

Next…  Acknowledge Your Pain

David gets brutally real with God (see, for example, Psalm 6:6-7 and 44:23-26), and so should we. God can handle our honesty; it’s when we leave out the pain or gloss over the wounds that our prayers start to sound phony.

“You might be wrestling with lots of doubts at the moment,” Val writes. “Maybe there’s a sin you keep buried in the closet and have yet to confess. Or perhaps you’re grieving and angry at God. Prayer may feel impossible, but you’re in a better spot than you think. You have nothing to offer, but that’s always been true. It’s just more visible now.”

Tell God how you feel; he can handle it.

Third…  Make Your Request

“Make your requests known to God, and listen for his answer.”

That’s Val’s advice, along with a word of caution:  “Don’t assume that if [God] wanted to give you relief, blessing, or freedom from the struggle, he would have already done it. Our God gives good gifts to his children, as we’ve seen in Matthew 7:11, but he also tells us to ask for them.”

And finally…  Praise Well

“When we complain to anyone besides God, our experience is hopeless and defeated. But when we lament to God, we get out of our personal reality and get into God’s. We remind ourselves of the truth and hope we have in Jesus. This is why praise is a necessary part of lament.”

God doesn’t want us to come to him with all our drama because he loves it. He wants us to come because he loves usHe knows he’s the ONLY one who, Val says, “can redeem our complaints and comfort us in our laments.”

And it’s okay if we have to keep reminding ourselves of this truth – if we (as Val puts it) “seesaw back and forth from lament to praise.” David did that. He gave voice to the truth again and again, taking hold of what he knew in his mind and speaking it to his heart.

Don’t be afraid of hurts, doubts, and frustrations. Take them to God, throw off the weight of facades, and realize that you are fully known…and fully, deeply, unconditionally loved.

❤️

Want to know more about releasing your complaints to the Lord? Read all of Chapter 6 in Pray Confidently & Consistently. 

Or watch the IGTV interview, where Val shares more on this topic. Go to my Instagram feed and click the thing that looks like a little TV:

Jodie's IG Feed

 

Or just spend a few minutes sharing your lament, honestly, with the One who can help. Be encouraged by Christ’s invitation…

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

❤️

As always, I only tell you about books I truly love; if you purchase via the link in this email, I get a small commission.

 

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Marriage (and how I’m praying for my boy + his bride)

Our son was only seven years old, prepping for his role as a ring-bearer in my brother’s wedding, when he first broached the subject of marriage. 

Robbie as ring-bearer in David's marriage

“What happens,” Robbie wanted to know, “if you go to a lot of weddings and you never get picked?”

I wasn’t quite sure what he was asking, so I pressed for details. “Robbie,” I said slowly, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. What do you think happens at a wedding?”

“I think everyone gets dressed up and then the girl chooses the one she wants. So what happens if you never get picked?”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Having already been on a dozen different sports teams by the time he was seven, Robbie saw the whole world through the lens of athletics. To him, a wedding represented one more opportunity to “dress out” and compete for a starting position.

The fact that Robbie was concerned about the perennial bench warmers—and that he might be secretly worried about missing his own chance to “play”—pierced my heart. I found his question both touching and hilarious, and it served as a reminder that it’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner.

Praying for Your Child's Marriage Partner

I’ve written about marriage and kids in this space before (click here to read three specific ways we can pray for the person our child will marry, and here for a post about what makes a really good marriage). But the topic is big on my mind this week because Robbie is all grown up now and ready for a ring of his own.

He’s still an athlete and sports still color much of his world, but I imagine that if you asked Robbie about his biggest win, he wouldn’t tell you about any of the stuff that earned trophies or championship rings. He’d introduce you to Mary, the woman he will marry tomorrow.

Robbie and Mary - Before Marriage

As I think back on all the prayers I’ve prayed for Robbie’s one-day wife—prayers that spanned twenty-five years—I am overwhelmed by God’s goodness. Mary is an immeasurably more answer to prayer. And what joy it was, when I heard “She said yes!”, to look at this beautiful young woman and think to myself:  So it’s you!

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s eventual (or current) marriage. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are single or married, four years old or forty, walking closely with Jesus or still finding their way; God hears every one of our cries. And his answers continue to unfold, long after we finish praying.

God's answers continue to unfold quote

God’s answers continue to unfold long after we finish praying.

That’s one of the reasons I love praying the Scriptures, joining my voice with generationsfuture and pastwhose desires are shaped by God’s promises. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God’s word accomplishes his desires and achieves his purposes; it doesn’t say how or when. But when we bring our requests to God, we can be confident that he treasures them.

He collects them, the Bible says, in golden bowls.

He remembers.

And as I shift the focus of my prayers for Robbie’s marriage and begin to pray not just for him or for her but for them, I am grateful for God’s past faithfulness and for the good things he has in store.

Do I know what their lives will look like? Not at all. But I look forward to watching their story unfold.

Here are a few of the verses I’m praying for Robbie and Mary. They’re excepts from Psalm 145 and (to me, anyway) they represent a lot of what a marriage might hold. Feel free to pick one (or all) of these verses and pray them for your child’s marriage—or for your own. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Every day—for better and for worse—may they praise you and extol your name. (v. 2)

May they commend your works to their children, telling of your mighty acts, speaking of your glorious splendor, and proclaiming the power of your great deeds. (v. 4-6)

Let them celebrate your abundant goodness. (v. 7)

Be gracious and compassionate toward them; let them experience the riches of your love. (v. 8)

Equip them to trust your promises and remember that you are faithful. (v. 13)

Uphold them when they fall; lift their hearts when they are down. (v. 14)

Open your hand, O Lord, and satisfy their desires. (v. 16)

Be near to them when they call on you; hear their cry and save them. (v. 18-19)

Watch over them as they love you…and may they praise your holy name for ever and ever. (v. 20-21)

Amen

❤️

P.S. And Mary, if you ever read this post…thank you for “picking” my boy! 🙂

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Back-to-School Prayers (with a free printable)

It’s back-to-school time. Which means different things to different parents.

I spoke to one empty nester who told me she still hates Labor Day. “It signals that summer is over,” she said, “and I was always the mom in a puddle of tears at the bus stop. I didn’t want to let my kids go.”

And then there’s the Instagram mom who posted that the sun came out from behind the storm clouds as she waved goodbye to her kids–and that when she went back into her house, the dishwasher had unloaded itself, the coffee had brewed itself, and Ryan Gosling had made her bed and was folding her laundry. 😉

Wherever you are on the back-to-school spectrum–sobbing or singing or a little of both–I know you love your kids. And you want God’s best for them during the coming year.

I wish you and I could sit down together as this new school year begins. I’d ask you what you’re excited about. What concerns you might have. And how I can pray.

And I’d share some of what I’ve been learning from other moms–especially as it relates to helping our kids push back against things like worry and fear. I saw one study that said anxiety and depression had doubled among children and teens during the pandemic. How do we help our kids when they struggle? Even if it’s just back-to-school jitters and not something chronic, how should we pray?

I asked Sally Burke, Moms in Prayer president, how she would answer questions like these. I wasn’t surprised when she pointed straight to the Bible. She prays Nehemiah 8:10 over her kids, that the joy of the Lord will be their strength. And she  asks God to help them set their hearts and their minds “on things above, where Christ is,” not on worldly things.

Rebekah Lyons, the bestselling author of Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace, told me she plays the “Then what?” game with her kids. “What if your worst fears came true?” she asks. “Then what?”  Rebekah knows bad things will happen–things we never see coming–but “if the One who holds all things together is the One who holds us,” she says, we will “still be standing” when the they have passed.

The One who holds all things together holds us.

And he holds our kids.

And when we anchor our trust in his word, we really will have, as Psalm 112:7 promises, “no fear of bad news.”

Again, I wish we could sit down together. I don’t know what you are praying about–whether your kids need good friends, wisdom, protection, or anything else–but God does. Our Father knows what we need before we ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

If you want a few specific prayers you can pray in this back-to-school season, here are twelve of my favorites. I’ve pulled them together in a printable for our email community (but feel free to share them with friends). Click here to download and then keep these prompts on your phone…

Back-to-school printable

…or print them and put them someplace where you will see them. Or tuck ’em in the lunchbox or the backpack with your child’s name in the blank. How comforting it is for a child to know that their earthly parent is talking to their heavenly Parent about their every need!

Printable back-to-school prayer (Eph 4:2)

❤️

P.S. Want to watch the full back-to-school interview with Rebekah Lyons? You’ll find it on my Instagram feedand psst:  She has a brand new devotional book dropping next week! Check it out here!

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Lay the track (and look for God’s power!)

Note:  Watchman Nee’s quote about how we “lay the track” is one of my favorite depictions of how we can partner with God through our prayers. This post ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com. They’ve got a brand new website filled with all sorts of encouraging goodies – check it out!

Our prayers lay the track graphic

I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of years thinking that prayer was basically a one-way conversation in which I’d ask God for what I thought would be good and then see what happened. If my relationships or circumstances lined up with my requests, I would know that God had said yes. If not, he said no.

I didn’t begrudge God when he turned me down (I knew verses like Isaiah 55:8-9, which explain that God’s ways and his thoughts are higher than ours), but I much preferred it when I’d put in a prayer and get the answer I wanted.

I liked it when prayer worked like a vending machine.

But that’s not how Jesus sees prayer. His model for prayer is based on attachment. “If you remain in me,” he says, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Put another way, when we stay connected to Christ and allow his words to soak into our souls and give shape to our prayers, we can pray with the full and wholehearted expectation that God will answer.

And we don’t know (we can’t know!) all the good things that God might have in store as we ground our prayers in his Word. He specializes in doing more—immeasurably more—than all we ask for or imagine.

“Immeasurably More” than we ask or imagine

One year, for example, I decided to pray 2 Peter 1:2 on behalf of one of my dearest friends and prayer partners. Suzanne (not her real name) is a gal whose zeal for life is almost unmatched—she lives big, you might say—and the word abundance in that verse caught my eye.

“May grace and peace be hers in abundance,” I prayed for my friend, again and again.

What I didn’t know—what I couldn’t have known—was that Suzanne would come up against some incredible challenges in her workplace that year, including rumors and lies that eventually led to her leaving her job. Had she not been thoroughly covered in God’s grace and peace, the fear and anxiety that tried to capture her heart during that difficult season might have succeeded. As it was, Suzanne courageously weathered a six-month-long storm. And when she came out of the darkness, she found herself in a new job—one far more fulfilling (and financially rewarding) than anything she could have imagined.

I was asking God for abundance. He was willing to provide that (and he did) but he knew my friend would need his grace and peace even more.

Be a conduit for God’s power

And here’s the thing about praying the Scriptures. We don’t do the blessing, the healing, the providing, the protecting. That’s God’s job. Our job is simply to be the conduit for his power. Our prayers release God’s provision.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian writer, put it like this: “Our prayers thus lay the track down which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.”

Let’s lay the track and look for God’s power to come down in ways that go immeasurably, abundantly, beyond anything we could ask for or imagine.

❤️

Where do you long to see God’s hand at work in your life? Do you believe he is able—and willing—to give you all that you need? What would it look like for you to “lay the track” through your prayers?

The Bible says, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Ask God for what you need today—lay some track—and then look for the locomotive of his power to come!

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A Real Rest for the Weary

I will give you rest

“Granddaddy,” three-year-old Hillary said, “Can I rest on you?”

My father—who was babysitting my daughter at the time—told me later that he wasn’t sure what she meant, but he had said yes. And with that, my dad said, Hillary climbed onto his lap, put her head on his chest, and fell sound asleep.

And all my father could think about as he sat there with a toddler sleeping on his chest was Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields them all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”

I loved that image—my daughter finding security between my father’s shoulders. It dovetailed neatly with the “rest for your souls” Jesus offers in Matthew 11:29—rest that promises freedom from fear, the lifting of burdens, and provision for our soul’s deepest needs.

Still, though, I found myself scratching my head. When Jesus offers rest for the weary and burdened, it’s not like he says, “Come take a nap.” He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” I don’t know all that much about farming but, to me, wearing a yoke implies action of some sort. Pulling a cart. Plowing a field. Doing work.

Where was the promise of rest in that picture?

Can we work and rest at the same time?

I decided to do a bit of exploring. And, as so often happens, checking a familiar passage in a different translation helped put things into perspective. The Message makes no mention of “yokes”; instead, here’s how it renders Christ’s words in Matthew 11:28-29:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

A real rest.

That sounded appealing. I liked how Jesus linked rest—real rest—to walking and working with him. To experiencing a life marked by purpose. To living freely and lightly—not straining or striving, but moving to the “unforced rhythms of grace” as we “keep company” with the Lord.

But…what does that look like in real life? Can we really rest and work at the same time?

I think Moses would say that we can.

The promise of God’s presence

In Exodus 33, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses wanted some hands-on instruction (“Teach me your ways,” he said), but God offered something better. “My presence will go with you,” he promised (v. 14), “and I will give you rest.”

Had I been in Moses’s sandals, I might have balked. After all, there were tents to pack, children to gather, lunches to fix. Moving an entire nation could not have been easy; I might have valued God’s plan more than his presence.

Not Moses, though. He knew God’s presence was the key—not just to getting the job done, but to marking the Israelites as belonging to God and letting them know they were loved. “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?” Moses asked God (v. 16). “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

There was work to be done—hard work that would tap the Israelites’ physical and mental reserves. But Moses knew that success didn’t depend on writing a to-do list, executing an agenda, or staying strong for all the people who looked up to him. Their success—and their security—came from anchoring their trust in the Lord.

A posture of trust

Isaiah 30:15 says our strength comes from settling down in “complete dependence” on God.

Boat at rest - Isaiah 30:15

Rest, then—real rest—is maybe not so much ceasing activity as it is adopting a posture of trust, one where we increasingly rely not on our own strength but on God’s. It’s yielding our plans—our timetables, our skill-sets, our ideas about how things have to go down—to the Lord and actively choosing to dwell in his presence.

It is to climb into the arms of Everlasting Love, put our head on his chest, and know that when we say, “Can I rest on you?” our heavenly Father will say yes.

❤️

All of our children loved to rest in my father’s arms. And as I press pause on the blog for the summer (see you back here in September!), this is the image that I will carry with me:

What about you?

If you find yourself needing real rest, maybe don’t think about all the to-do’s on your list today. Instead, take a few moments to reflect on God’s power and his presence. He longs to equip us to be productive, fruit-bearing people (John 15:5); the key is to stay connected to him.

Ask God to help you surrender your agenda to him. Open your heart to receive the rest Jesus offers. Imagine what it would look like to enjoy his company–to “waste time” with him, even—as you learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

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The one prayer we all need

(In case you missed it… This post showed up earlier this week on Crosswalk.com, a place where you’ll find daily devotions, Bible study and prayer helps, top news headlines from around the world, and much more.)

The One Prayer We All Need

When it comes to prayer, what’s your biggest hurdle? What holds you back?

I’ve heard all sorts of answers to questions like these. Some folks say they don’t have enough time. Others tell me they’re not convinced that prayer works. And then there are those who worry that they will be “bugging” God if they talk to him about the little details of their lives.

None of these, though, is the most common problem we face. The main obstacle—even among people who’ve spent their whole lives in church—is that we don’t really know how to pray.

We don’t think we sound “holy” enough.

We worry that we won’t do it right, or that we’ll ask for the “wrong” thing.

We aren’t sure where to begin.

As someone who’s spent the past twenty-five years writing and speaking about prayer, I have heard a lot of good prayers. And I’ve been around a lot of good pray-ers, folks who (if prayer were a sport) would easily land a starting spot on the varsity team. Honestly, though? Having heard all these good people and all their good words, I don’t think prayer gets much better than this:

“Lord, help.”

Help me, God

The “Lord, help me” prayer is the one prayer we all need. It works for all situations. And it’s a prayer that’s as old as the Bible.

It’s what King David prayed, when his enemies attacked and he found his very life on the line. “Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.” (Psalm 70:1)

It’s what a Canaanite woman—a foreigner—said, when her daughter was sick. Even though the disciples tried to shoo her away, she pressed in and knelt before Jesus. “Lord, help me!” she prayed. (Matthew 15:25)

And it’s what a desperate father asked, as he watched his demon-possessed son roll around on the ground, foaming at the mouth like he’d done for years. “If you can do anything,” he said to Jesus, “take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)

“Help me.”

In each of these cases—and countless more throughout history—God heard the prayer and showed up.

The prayers were not fancy. Nor were the people. David was hiding in caves, not seated on a throne. The Canaanite mom was, frankly, annoying the disciples with her request. And the demoniac’s dad? He didn’t even know if prayer worked: “Help me!” he cried. “Help me overcome my unbelief!

So what was so special? Why did God answer? And does the “Lord, help!” prayer still work today?

Does the “Help me” prayer still work today?

Yes, this prayer works—and here’s why.

First, the very act of prayer—of turning our hearts and our minds toward the Almighty—brings us into God’s presence, the place where, Psalm 16:11 says, there is fullness of joy.

Second, starting a prayer with the word “Lord” is akin to starting with praise. It is saying, in a nutshell, that God is God…and we are not. It is identifying him as the source of all blessing and provision, saying that he is the one with the power and the resources to impact our lives. Just like we would come before an earthly king or ruler with the right attitude, so establishing our place—and God’s—is the best place to begin.

Third (and perhaps most importantly), we make a colossal mistake when we think that we have to get it together if we want God to hear our petition, that we have to clean up our act or be strong. We feel like if we are going to ask God for help, we better be in a position to deserve it.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A magnet for God’s grace

It is our weakness that attracts God’s attention. “God opposes the proud,” James 4:6 says, “but shows favor to the humble.” Our cry for help acts as a magnet for his grace! Not only that, but our weakness is like a trophy case for God’s glory. His power, he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, is “made perfect” in weakness. That’s where God’s Spirit shines!

Our prayer for help is a magnet

So let’s not hold back when it comes to prayer, no matter how ill-equipped or inadequate we might feel. Let’s tell God what we need—what we’re afraid of, what we worry about, where we think we’re not up to the job—without worrying that we are bugging him, or that we’ll ask for the wrong thing.

God wants us to pray so that he can provide.

In every situation.

That’s the promise of Philippians 4:6, and it’s true. I’ve often said that there is not a single need we will face that God has not already thought of and provided for in his Word. Likewise, there is not a single need we will face—in our relationships, our jobs, our physical bodies, or anything else—that God has not already anticipated and supplied in his character.

He is our Healer: “Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.” (Psalm 30:2)

He is our Protector: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.” (Psalm 28:7)

He is our Counselor: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

He is our Helper in all situations—even if we just need to know what we should say! (See Exodus 4:12 and Luke 12:12, for example.)

Prayer and provision

God bends down to hear our prayer

All of these attributes, and countless more, are facets of God’s nature that he longs for us to discover, and appeal to, as we pray. “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” Paul writes, “as you help us by your prayers.” Clearly, God intends for us to partner with him—to have a hand in the rescue operation—whether the need is for ourselves or for someone else. And even when we feel too weary, frightened, or discouraged to put our thoughts into words—when we want to pray but we just don’t know how—he helps us then too:

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” promises Romans 8:26. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

So again, let’s not hold back. Let’s ask God for help and be confident that he will answer. Let’s join our voices with the psalmist and say: “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!”

God bends down to listen. He longs to reply. All we have to say is, “Help.”

❤️

“Asking for help” is just one of 31 different prayer topics covered in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life. God really does care about every detail of our lives!

Jodie holds latest prayer book

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Tiny Phrases that Stick (by Sara Hagerty)

Note from Jodie:  Sara Hagerty is a dear friend and a gifted writer who says the things I want to say, only better. When I read her musings about how tiny phrases—bite-sized verses, or even just parts of verses—can shape our perspective as well as our prayers, I asked her to step into this space and write something for you.

If you like the idea of letting tiny phrases from the Bible come alive and color your day, join me on Instagram or Facebook in July, when we’ll be praying one short Scripture every day on my stories.

Here’s Sara…

Tiny Phrases – tiny (big) conversations with God

My very traditional high school experience ensured that I could sing at least one-third of every pop song released between 1991 and 1999. I struggle to call my children by their correct name, but Michael Jackson’s lyrics will go with me to my grave, whether I like it or not.

Songs make things stick.

My husband Nate and I are a part of a community that sings the Word of God.

Yes, you read that right: they sing Scripture spontaneously — reading from the Bible propped on their music stands as they create choruses from that verse, on the spot.

They aren’t the first. And just like after you walk out of a Broadway musical, and you’re wash{ing} that man right out of your hair in the shower, listening to them has made Scripture absorb more deeply into my brain.

Songs make things stick.

Or … is it that bite-sized portions of Scripture come alive when we stay there, a little longer?

Bite-sized portions of Scripture - Sara Hagerty

It wasn’t until my late twenties when I first came into contact with others who were studying and praying and meditating on the Word in phrases, that I considered the potential power of a mere three or four words added to my vernacular … and my mind. Those were the days before smartphones, so this practice didn’t come from fractured attention spans — but it was available for us, still-children, needing to approach the Word of God like the feast that it is.

This has changed the way I see the Word, changed the way I handle it. One sentence has weight. One phrase could be a landing place for days … or a week.

It sounds ethereal without boots.

Boots for me: Psalm 119.

For a year, I prayed through this Psalm for Nate, verse by verse, day by day. Each of the prayers I turned into prayers for him. Before that, they were prayers for me, and the year after, they were prayers for my children:

let me not wander from your commandments (v.10)

deal bountifully with me (v.17) 

take away from me scorn and contempt (v.22)

give me life according to your Word (v.25)

give me understanding (v.34)

let your steadfast love comfort me (v.76)

And on … there’s more—many more—in this one Psalm.

Growing deeper roots in God has meant both heart and practice for me. It does mean meditating on His Word on the days I don’t feel like it. But it’s also meant paying attention to my heart and asking why I don’t feel like it. (When my heart and mind meet His Word it’s not as neat and tidy as I might expect.)

So I can do both: cry through a hard season when I feel sluggish and cold and spend a few minutes, intermittently throughout my day praying a phrase of Scripture, letting it knock around in my head, forming thoughts about it that make it a part of my day.

I can meditate on His Word at 3pm on a drizzly, overcast Monday when my heart feels the same and admit that I’m wondering why God feels just as cloud-covered.

Tiny phrases when God feels cloud-covered - Sara Hagerty

And in doing so, I’ve learned this:  God is at His best in our lives not when we feel strong, but when we practice engaging with His Word in our weakness. When we allow His promises to intercept our thoughts, even the tiny phrases become powerful anchors that hold us fast, stilling our fears, calming our storms, and breathing hope into the dark or weary corners of our lives.

So I have meditated on Psalm 119 when I wake up earlier than my alarm clock and feel on top of the world (this is rare) and when I need two cups of caffeinated tea before I can think coherently.

I’ve lingered on it when my kids were thriving … and when my home felt disruptively painful.

I’ve written my prayers in the margin next to these verses that felt hopeful … and others that felt desperate.

Psalm 119 in my Bible has reflected a history of conversation with God through His Word. A messy history, a wrestling history, a meet-with-Him-when-I-don’t-feel-like-it history … where His Word slowly, steadily intercepts my thinking and my praying, and thus my life.

❤️

If you want to follow along with a hard copy of the tiny phrases we’ll be praying in July, click here to download the 31-Days of Prayer Calendar, which features bite-sized prayers adapted from my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life.

31 Days of Prayer (Life)

(The calendar is available in color and in black-and-white; choose whichever version you prefer!)

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Fox News – Is it okay to pray about “little” stuff?

Our daughter Virginia gets married tomorrow (!) so no post today, but earlier this week Fox News ran a piece I wrote about why it’s okay to talk to God about the “little stuff.” 

Click here if you’d like to read it…or just remember this one little nugget:

Praying about the small stuff opens our eyes to the “ordinary” blessings God provides every day. And as we thank God for these things, acknowledging him as their source, the path to his presence becomes familiar and worn. 

Fox News post on the path to God's presence

Have a glorious weekend!

Jodie

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Pray that Your Kids Get Caught

Years ago, I told a younger mom that I always prayed my kids would get caught if they were doing anything wrong.

“Why do you do that?” the gal wanted to know. “Wouldn’t it be better to pray that they won’t do anything bad?”

I laughed, thinking that it would take a lot more faith to pray her prayer than mine. And when I read Susan Alexander Yates’ post this week about praying that her kids would get caught, I knew I had to share it with you.

(Not just because–true story–I also threw mud balls at a police car.)

(And not just because I also got caught.)

I knew I had to share Susan’s post because, back when my friend asked why I prayed the way that I did, I think I mumbled something about wanting sin to be exposed or how kids grow and learn when they have to own their mistakes. I still stand by those words, but golly. I wish I had put it then like Susan does now.

Here she is…

Why You Should Pray Regularly that Your Kids Get Caught

(Guest post by Susan Alexander Yates)

This Is Why You Should Pray Regularly That Your Kids Get Caught!

I want to encourage you to pray that your kids get caught.

What?”

“Why would I want to do that??”

We had 5 kids in 7 years. Even today, as a grandmother of 21, I can still feel the exhaustion of those early years. Raising young kids is hard for many reasons, but one is that you train and train without seeing results for many years. It’s discouraging.

Why doesn’t this child get it? I’ve told him over and over! Will he ever learn?”

Our kids keep us on our knees. One of the things John and I prayed for each of our kids was that if they were doing anything wrong they’d get caught. It’s far better to get caught when you are young, living at home, and your foolishness is less likely to be as serious.

Our kids were not thrilled with this prayer of ours!

Let me share a personal story:

When our son Chris was about 11 he and his buddy Nate decided to make clay “cannon balls,” hide behind a bank next to a road, and throw them at passing cars…

Continue reading This Is Why You Should Pray Regularly That Your Kids Get Caught! at SusanAlexanderYates.com

_______

Want to know more about how you can pray for things like honesty and integrity in your kids? Check out Susan and John Yates’ book, Character Matters: Raising Kids with Values that Last.

And psst…if you’ve got a copy of the just-released updated edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, check out chapter 6… 😉

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens (on black table)

…or chapters 8 and 17 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenin which kids get caught stealing crayons, vandalizing their school, and accessing some unwanted content on the computer…

Praying the Scriptures book on the beach

…OR, if you know Numbers 32:23 (“you may be sure that your sin will find you out”) and you just need a prayer you can pray  RIGHT THIS MINUTE, try this one:

Heavenly Father,

Keep ____ from deceitful ways. Teach them to choose the way of faithfulness and equip them to hold fast to your statutes so that they will never be put to shame. (Psalm 119:29-31)

Amen

❤️

(As always, if you use the links in this post to order any books, I get a small commission. And as always, I only tell you about the really good stuff. Susan and John’s book was the first parenting “how-to” book I ever purchased, and it’s still one of my favorites!)

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When teens don’t tell the truth

(Note: This post ran earlier this week as part of the Strength & Dignity devotional series at Club31Women.com. I’m sharing it here because we’re celebrating launch week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens and there’s a whole chapter in that book about honestly, integrity, and praying for your teens to tell the truth!)

God prompts us to pray (Club31Women graphic)

“Where were you last night?”

Molly eyed her daughter, watching for any hint of deception. Her maternal instincts had kicked into overdrive, but she wanted to give Jenna a chance to tell the truth before she confronted her with what she already knew: that Jenna had left a birthday party with a boy and then shown up—much later—at a girlfriend’s house where she had been invited to spend the night.

“I was at Allie’s house.”

“How did you get there?”

“Brian drove me there after the party.”

“Did you kiss him?” Molly asked.

“Mom!” Jenna protested. “What’s with all the questions?”

Molly hadn’t planned to ask about the kissing; the question had simply popped into her head. And now that Jenna had sidestepped the issue, she sensed she had hit a mark.

“Did you kiss him?” she repeated.

“No, Mom!” Jenna scoffed. “Nothing happened.”

There it was—the slightest cloud flickered across Jenna’s face, signaling to Molly that her daughter was not telling the truth. Molly didn’t really care whether or not Jenna had kissed anyone; that wasn’t the primary issue. It was the lying that mattered—and lately, it seemed that Jenna had been lying about a lot of things…

What to do when you teenager lies

If you’ve caught your teen in a lie—or if lying seems to have become a pattern in their life—you probably know how Molly felt. She was discouraged, angry, and exhausted. And as she read verses like Jeremiah 9:5, she was also scared. “No one tells the truth,” the prophet warned. “With practiced tongues they tell lies; the wear themselves out with all their sinning.”

There’s no question that lying gets easier with practice. And in a world where shifting blame, denying guilt, and withholding key information has become commonplace, it’s no surprise that our teens can twist the truth, break promises, and even tell bald-faced lies without feeling like they’ve hurt anyone or done something wrong.

So what do we do? How should we respond when our kids don’t tell the truth?

For starters, don’t panic. Nothing you are facing comes as a shocker to God, and when he reveals something—even the ugliest something—in our teens’ lives, it isn’t to scare us. It’s to prompt us to pray. Our prayers release God’s power to accomplish his purposes in the lives of the people we love.

Our prayers release God's power

Next, try to discover what motivated the lie. Was it fear? Insecurity? A desire to “cover” for friends? Ask God to reveal anything you need to know so that you can be specific and intentional when you pray.

And finally, remember where lies originate. Satan is the father of lies. He likes nothing better than to get you to believe his twisted words—including the lie that your kids are “doomed” when they blow it, that nothing will ever change, or that you’ve failed as a parent when your teens take a wrong turn.

Satan’s speaks deceit and destruction; God’s language is redemption and love. Trust God’s power to provide as you pray, knowing that his deepest desire is to lead your family to the Truth and set you free.

God delights in those who tell the truth


Read

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth. (Proverbs 12:22)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. (Psalm 34:12-13)

Reflect

As you ask God to help your teens tell the truth, think about your own life. What lies is the enemy trying to get you to believe? Has he whispered that your family is a mess, or that you will never get it right? Don’t listen! Remember that Satan is the father of lies, but that God is the Father of Love. He has started a good work in your family’s life and he can be counted on to complete it, and his deepest longing is to set your family free.

Respond

Heavenly Father,

Help my teens–help me–to believe you and hold to your teaching. Keep our tongues from evil and our lips from telling lies. Take delight in our family and set us free. (John 8:31-32Psalm 34:12-13; Proverbs 12:22)

Amen

❤️

P.S. You can read the rest of Molly and Jenna’s story in the updated edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, the latest release in the bestselling Praying the Scriptures series. Drawing on the power of God’s Word, this book equips you to pray effectively for everything from your teen’s relationships, faith, and safety to the purposes and plans God has for their future.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens 

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Teenagers, worry, and how we can help

Struggling with worry or fear?

Yeah, me too.

And I’m one of those people who can quote verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 and Romans 8:6 in her sleep. I know God didn’t give us a spirit of fear. I know that the spirit-controlled mind is one marked by peace. I know all of that–and I want to live like I believe it.

The thing is, though, the ongoing uncertainty and “what ifs” of a global pandemic can wear anyone down. Even if you’re not actively thinking about COVID, it’s there, like the low hum of the refrigerator, white-noising its way into our lives.

I’m not sure who has it the worst. I know loads of young parents working from home while schools and daycares are closed. I have older friends who spend their days caring for (and trying to protect) aging parents. And I’ve heard from more than a few tech-challenged colleagues who’ve blown it in some way on Zoom (although none so spectacularly as the lawyer who felt compelled to explain that he was not a cat).

We all have our struggles. But as my publishing team prepares to release the updated version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens on Tuesday, I can’t help but sympathize with the adolescents I know. Social connection is the lifeblood of a teenager’s existence, and things like remote learning, social distancing, and the long, lonely days of enforced quarantines add an extra layer of angst to their already hormone-packed lives. Throw in the stoppage of sports, the postponement of proms, and the cancellation of any number of other rites of passage in an adolescent’s life, and it’s easy to understand why our kids might have a hard time coping right now.

Teen suffering with anxiety/worry

A pimple is one thing; a pandemic can take teenage anxiety to a whole new level.

(Adult anxiety too. And even as my heart aches for teenagers, I realize that it’s also hard on their parents.)

Helping teens find freedom from worry and fear

So what do we do? Is there a way to live without worry? Can we help our teenagers find freedom from fear?

God certainly thinks so. If you take him at his word (and I do), worry has no place in our lives.“Do not worry about anything,” he tells us in Philippians 4:6. That was the most searched and shared Bible verse in 2019–followed in 2020 by its close cousin, Do not fear.”

We know, almost instinctively, that nothing good comes from worry and fear. These emotions are never productive. Nobody wants apprehension or anxiety to color their life. And nobody wants that for their kids.

But is obeying a command like “Do not worry” even possible–whether we’re talking about ourselves or our teens?

"Do not worry" command

No.

Not in our own strength, anyway.

We’re too frail. I have one friend who says she refuses to give in to worry (“Take every thought captive!” is her rallying cry), but even she would admit to slipping, sometimes.

That’s the bad news: we are weak. The good news—the great news, actually—is that God never gives us a command that he doesn’t also give us the power to fulfill. We might not stand a chance against worry and fear on our own, but we can tap into the supernatural power that makes victory possible through Scripture and the Spirit.

Moving from panic to peace

God’s Word renews our minds, transforms how we think, and informs our perspective. God’s Spirit reaches into our souls, reminding us of what we know to be true and interceding with us—interceding for us—in ways that words cannot describe. And when these two forces—the Scripture and the Spirit—come together to animate our thoughts and give shape to our prayers, panic gives way to peace.

The Scripture and the Spirit photo

The very act of approaching the Lord—of saying, “Dear God, I need help”—opens the door to connection with him, ushering us into his presence and producing a sense of security that is more easily experienced than explained.

It’s a peace, Scripture says, that “transcends all understanding.” Or, as The Message version puts it…

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Isn’t that lovely? A sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.

Peaceful blue flower

It’s in that act of settling, as our thoughts and emotions center on Christ instead of our cares, that we can bring our teens and their needs before God.

We can pray for their friendships, asking God to surround them with friends who will encourage each other daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

We can pray for their sense of identity, asking God to help them realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are marvelous in his eyes. (Psalm 139:14)

And we can do battle with the unseen forces that prey on their hearts and their minds, turning that “best of 2019” verse into our personal prayer: “Don’t let ______ be anxious about anything. Instead, prompt them to pray, with thanksgiving, and let your peace guard their hearts and minds.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Anxiety Prayer (horizontal)

These are just three of the prayer prompts you’ll find in this new collection of prayer cards designed especially for teens. They’re called “Dashboard Prayers” cuz they are tiny and perfect to keep in your car—or to give to your kids to let them know you are praying the next time they ask to borrow the keys!

Dashboard Prayer Cards 2

The Dashboard Prayers are available as a free printable (and a thank you!) to my email subscribers; click here to download. And if you know someone who’d like to get these little blogs delivered to their in-box every few weeks, please encourage them to subscribe.

Anyone, though, can get a copy of the updated book. 😉 Click here to get yours!

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens

P.S. When I wrote the original Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens in 2007, “technology use” was pretty much confined to a new thing called MySpace. Back then, parents who were concerned about their teens’ drug use were talking about pot. Not fentanyl. Not prescription meds. Not the devastating pain of opioid addiction. And things like a kid’s sense of identity (“Who am I? Am I loved? Does my life have meaning or worth?”) barely registered on our collective parental radar.

Needless to say, the book needed updating. And as I worked on this new edition, it struck me again: Times change, but God doesn’t. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And his word does not return empty but always accomplishes what he desires.

❤️

 

 

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Do you trust me?

Do you trust me?

That’s a question God’s asked me, again and again, when my prayers don’t get answered in the way, or the timing, I want.

Or when I can’t see what he’s up to.

Or when I think I’ve got God all figured out—his plans for my children, my schedule, the desires of my heart—but it turns out that I actually don’t.

And when a friend (let’s call her Grace) told me what happened with her nephew and his back-to-back birthdays, I saw myself in the story. Maybe you’ll see yourself too.

A good and perfect birthday gift

What do you give a little boy for his birthday?

Thinking an airplane might elicit some smiles, Grace wrapped up a model flyer, the styrofoam kind, and gave it to her nephew. Sure enough, the boy LOVED the gift—and promptly launched it over the neighbor’s privacy fence, where the plane crashed upon landing, never to be played with again.

The following year, Grace tried again. And when she called to wish the child a happy birthday, she learned that the second present had not yet been opened.

“I know you got him another airplane,” Grace’s sister explained, eyeing the long gift-wrapped box, “and he will be so happy. But it’s pouring down rain and he can’t go outside, so we’ll open your present tomorrow.”

Grace burst out laughing. The gift wasn’t an airplane. It was an umbrella. Perfect for jumping in puddles and playing outside on a rainy birthday!

Boy with umbrella

God knows what you need

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve thought that God had an airplane for me (or for my child), but it turned out to be an umbrella—and once I stopped questioning or complaining, I recognized the goodness and perfection of his gift. And if I lost you somewhere in that sentence, here’s what I’m trying to say:

God rarely repeats himself. (See Isaiah 43:19.) When we spend our time looking back at last year’s presents, thinking we know what God has in store for us next, we risk missing the new thing. We risk missing God’s perfect provision for now.

God’s ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We can trust that his thoughts, and his plans, are higher (and better) than ours.

God knows what we need, even before we ask him. (That’s Matthew 6:8.) We might sit there blathering on and on about how much we love airplanes, but God knows when it’s going to rain. He wants us to be ready. He wants to give us what we need—and what he already knows we will also want.

God wants to give us what we need

Trust with all your heart

So where does that leave us when we know God is good and that he’s got a plan, but we don’t understand (or like) what he seems to be doing? What do we with the gap between notion of what we think we need and the reality of what God provides?

We trust.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

(Or, as the Message puts it for mule-headed people like me:  “Don’t try to figure everything out on your own.”)

If trusting God in the face of uncertainty or disappointment feels iffy, or even impossible in times of grieving or loss, that’s okay. Just like we don’t have to create faith on our own (think about the father in Mark 9 who asked Jesus to help his unbelief), we don’t have to position ourselves in a posture of trust. We can ask the Holy Spirit for help.

We can turn Proverbs 3:5 into a prayer (and if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen this one in my stories today):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Help me trust in you with all my heart instead of leaning on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

When we come before God in surrender, he will make our paths straight. And as we lay our requests before him, we can do so knowing (as Tim Keller puts it) that “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

We can unwrap the umbrella, thank God for his provision, and go out and dance in the rain.

❤️

P.S. Trusting God is an area where I often struggle, particularly when I am *sure* that my idea, my way, or my timetable is better than his. If that’s where you find yourself too, here’s a little bonus material to chew on today.

For further reflection…

Read Psalm 84:11-12. What does God promise in these verses? What do you think it means to walk “blamelessly”? (Hint:  See Colossians 1:21-22.) How does verse 12, coming so close on the heels of verse 11, shape your understanding of what God promises us?

Read Isaiah 26:3-4. What does God say he will do when we trust him? How does the image of God as the “Rock eternal” encourage or embolden you?

Finally, allow the words of Romans 15:13 seep into your soul as you turn this verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father, God of hope:

Fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in you, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Amen

 

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Some Good News to Color Your Day

Political divisions. Racial tensions. A pandemic that didn’t even blink when we hit the new year. Throw that on top of all the “what else’s” in life–the toddler who won’t sleep through the night, the job offer that didn’t come through, the news that the cancer is back–and you may sit back and wonder (as I have, more than once lately): Is there any good news in the world?

Actually…yes.

And chances are, all we have to do is roll over to find it.

I’m talking about the Bible, of course. Whether you have an old-fashioned print version on your nightstand or you prefer some newfangled app on your phone, the Good News is there every morning, ready to color your world. And if you find yourself reaching for God’s Word more now than you used to, you’re not alone. In the pandemic’s early days, Bible sales spiked; more recently, a Bible study podcast took over Apple’s top slot, beating out shows by perennial giants like NPR and The New York Times.

It’s as if we know, almost instinctively, that the biggest threat to our peace or our sense of security isn’t the “out there” stuff in the headlines but the “in here” way that we process it. We long for a voice that transcends the noise of the world and speaks to our soul, a voice that (Isaiah 30:21) is ever behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Coffee and Bible are good news

We know we need God.

That’s the (small “g”) good news.

The bad news is that, according to some researchers, actual engagement with Scripture–as in, the percentage of people who read the (capital “g”) Good News every day–is on the decline. John Farquhar Plake, the American Bible Society’s director of ministry intelligence (how’s that for a cool-sounding job?), links the drop in Bible reading to church closures and the ill-effects of our quarantine time. “When relational church engagement goes up,” Plake says, “so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it.”

We like our Scripture, it seems, served with a hug or a smile. No wonder the Bible tells us not to give up meeting together.

So what do we do, since hugging is out and our smiles remain tucked in our masks?

We press in. We tune our ears to that voice. We scour the Scriptures to find the good news every day.

We press in: Fifteen minutes a day

This past week, Tony Dungy and Benjamin Watson addressed the weariness we’re all facing and challenged Christians to read the whole Bible, cover-to-cover, this year–a tough-sounding job that, they say, actually takes only about fifteen minutes a day.

I’m all for this plan. I believe Psalm 112 when it says that those who delight in God’s Word will “have no fear of bad news.” I’ve personally experienced the Psalm 1 feeling of being planted by streams of water, allowing the Bible to produce fruit in my life instead of leaving me withered and dry.

Again, I like Dungy’s plan. But having had some Bible-in-a-Year years that felt like flossing my teeth (which my dentist will tell you I don’t do all that well) and some where it felt like sailing with the wind, I’d like to offer a few strategies for success, should you decide to try this at home.

First, start with prayer. Nobody is born knowing the Bible or wanting to read it, but God works in us, Scripture says, giving us the eagerness and the power to do it. As we open our Bibles, we can ask God to shape our desires, using prayers like the one I shared this month on my Instagram stories: “May I take great delight in your law, meditating on it day and night so whatever I do will prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Psalm 1:1-3 prayer to love the good news

Next, make a plan. Type “Bible Reading Plans” into your Google search bar and you get more than 80 million (!) results. Two of my favorites, if you just want to cut to the chase, are the Bible in One Year plan that comes with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you can get the readings via email or on the app) and the NIV One-Year Bible, which has the whole book pre-divided, with excerpts from the Old and New Testaments every day.

(And pssst on the plan. If you miss a day–or a week–don’t beat yourself up. Treat it like flossing and get back in the game.)

Finally, get some help. Invite a friend to do your plan with you and talk through your insights together. Get a study tool like Max Anders’ bestselling 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. And (most important) count on the Holy Spirit, our Helper, to do the job he does best: Teach you all things and remind you of everything Jesus said.

Max Anders book 30 Days to Understanding Your Bible

As you read, remember that the goal isn’t so much to get to know the written word as it is to encounter the Living Word, to read the book to discover the Author. And it never gets old.

As Charles Spurgeon put it, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”

Good news, indeed.

Girl reading Scripture with Charles Spurgeon quote

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Nothing is Impossible with God

For the word of God will never fail.

I read those words–a line from Luke’s gospel–and stopped. I’d been making my way through Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, and when she got to the part about Mary and the angelic visit, a story recorded in Luke 1, I thought there must be some mistake. I knew Luke 1:37 (it was the first verse our son ever learned) and that definitely was not it. The verse I knew, and the one Robbie memorized as a preschooler, went like this: “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Could I be remembering wrong? (Maybe don’t answer that.)

I flipped open my Bible–an old NIV–and sure enough, that’s what Luke 1:37 says: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37 "Nothing is impossible with God."

Well then.

Could Ann Voskamp be wrong? I didn’t think so.

Curiosity piqued, I decided to dig. A quick search on Bible Hub unearthed 30 different versions of the same verse:

Nothing is impossible with God (BibleHub.com)

The NIV (which was updated in 2011) says: “For no word from God will ever fail.”

In the NLT (which The Greatest Gift uses) it is almost the same: “For the word of God will never fail.”

But the ESV renders the verse the way I remembered: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

A Colossal Linguistic Mistake?

How, I wondered, could the translators come up with such different wordings? Was this some sort of colossal linguistic mistake? Surely some Bible Brainiac would have noticed this whoopsie before.

(Okay, so I realize that comparing Bible translations doesn’t quicken everyone’s pulse, but stick with me here. We’re getting ready to pivot.)

As I pondered the contrast in meanings—some versions emphasizing the dependability of God’s word; others focusing on his power to do anything—it hit me: The different versions were not in conflict at all. Rather, they were two sides of the same coin.

Nothing is impossible with God because his word gets the job done.

Now, you won’t find that particular rendering in any translation, but you get my point: God’s word does not fail. It makes anything possible.

My favorite illustration of what this looks like in real life (and if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ve heard this one before) is when God said, “Let there be light.” Had you or I issued such a decree, we’d have to flip a switch or light a match or do something to scatter the darkness. But not God. All God had to do was speak and light happened.

God’s word makes things happen. Which is why I love wrapping my prayers in the language of Scripture, allowing the Bible–God’s written word–to shape my thoughts and desires. I want to tap into the full scope of Luke 1:37, knowing that nothing is impossible with God and that his word will not fail. I want to have a heart like Mary’s, who responded to the angel’s seemingly impossible news in Luke 1 with these words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

31 Days of Praying God’s Word

I’ve never been much of a New Year’s resolution person, but I can’t think of a more powerful or satisfying way to kick off 2021 than to spend the first month praying like Mary did–asking God to fulfill his word in the lives of the people I love. And if that appeals to you too, I’d like to invite you to join me in January for 31 Days of Prayer, Mary-style.

As Ann Voskamp tells it, Mary kneels “not as a woman producing, performing, or perfecting but simply bending before a God who has all the power to dispatch angels, enfold himself in embryonic cells, choreograph the paths of stars–a God who quietly beckons every man, every woman to simply come, bend, make a space, receive.”

Our Heavenly Father has the power to do the impossible—whether the need is in relationships, character traits, health concerns, faith issues, or anything else—and his word will not fail. All we need to do is simply bend before him and receive.

As you read your Bible this month (or this year), be alert to verses that might serve as prayer prompts. If you’d like help with the picking, you can download a 31-Day Prayer Calendar here, or join me over on Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll be sharing a new verse every day in my Stories, something to help us pray for our children or for anyone who’s claimed some space in our hearts.

Today’s prayer is for a loved one’s salvation…

Prayer for Salvation from Acts 26:18

Heavenly Father,

Turn _____ from darkness to light…that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among your people, those set apart by faith. (Acts 26:18)

Amen

❤️

P.S.  If you’re looking for some more good prayer prompts for your kids (or grandkids!), this post from my pal Susan Alexander Yates reveals three crucial things we can ask God to do in their lives.

And if you’d like a place to record your scripture prayers–as well as God’s answers–this year, I want to remind you about my most favorite prayer and planning journal, The Growth Book

The Growth Book

The Growth Book comes with space to record goals, prayers, memory verses, and more. This year, I ordered the bonus pack of “Study Deeper” stickers to help keep me organized as I learn about different topics. And I went ahead and printed some pix of our crew to tuck into the pages of the journal and serve as prayer prompts:

Family Photos as prayer prompts

If you want a Growth Book for yourself or a friend, use the promo code “growingin2021” (exclusive to JodieBerndt.com readers!) to get 10% off. I don’t make a commission on sales; I just love sharing my favorite things. 😊

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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A Thanksgiving Present for You!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

I know I’m not a Monday email-er, but I’m sliding into your inbox today to kick off Thanksgiving week and let you know how much I appreciate YOU.

When we launched the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, my publishing team tucked a set of Scripture prayer cards in with some of the very first copies of the book.

prayer cards

We had no idea how popular those cards would be, but once I realized how much people liked them, I asked the design folks if they could re-create the cards in a printable form so I could share them with our growing online friend group. I’m so incredibly grateful for your encouragement and support!

Click here to download the prayer cards on your laptop or home computer (the file is too big to work on a mobile device).

The set includes thirteen different 5″ x 7″ cards featuring topics like protection, diligence, kindness, salvation, and gratitude. I think they’d be fun tucked into napkins or hidden under plates at the Thanksgiving table–maybe as a “prayer prompt” folks can use to pray for the person seated to their right, if your crew is comfy with that.

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

Or, if you’re one of those squared-away people who is already done wrapping-and-tagging, the prayer cards make meaningful stocking stuffers (especially if you pray them over your children while Santa tucks the cards in with the gifts)!

Prayer Cards as Stocking Stuffer

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a friend or a teacher, package all thirteen cards together with a little easel. I found this one on Amazon as part of a set of six; click here if that appeals.

Prayer Cards with gold easel

Or…just print the collection for yourself. 😊

And as you do, know that I have prayed each one of these prayers over you. I may not know all your names or your needs, but God does. I love knowing that you are on “the other side” of these emails, and that we can meet, as a friend of mine says, “on the bridge of prayer.”

I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)

Much love,

Jodie

P.S. The prayer cards are meant as a thank you gift for email subscribers, but if you want to forward this note, that’s fine with me. Of course, I always love “meeting” new friends, so if you know someone who might like to receive these posts and prayer prompts (the emails show up once or twice a month on random Fridays), please invite them to subscribe. Thank you for sharing!

 

 

 

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I Will Sit With You in the Dark

“When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.”

That’s the message on a little rock I saw awhile back at a farmers’ market. One of our daughters was facing some seemingly insurmountable hurdles in her job, and I knew she was discouraged. I’d offered what little wisdom I had, but it hadn’t changed things. Maybe, I thought, she just needed to know that she wasn’t alone.

I bought the rock. And gave it to her.

Sit with you in the dark rock

And then I thought about Joseph, the technicolor-coat guy.

You know the story: Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, rose to power in the house where he served, got tossed into jail on a trumped-up attempted rape charge, languished in prison for years, and then–finally–found himself at Egypt’s helm, running a famine-relief program that saved not just that nation, but her neighbors as well.

A lot of folks (myself included) like this story because of its happy and redemptive ending. “You intended to harm me,” Joseph tells his brothers when they’re finally reunited, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

It’s a great punchline to a roller-coaster of a story, and it’s true: God does work, in all things, for the good of those who love him.

But what about Joseph’s long years in the dark? What about the time he spent out of the spotlight, wondering (I imagine) why God was letting him languish? Did God still love him? Had he been forgotten? Was God even paying attention?

What you need to know in the dark

These are legitimate questions, ones we may wrestle with when we find ourselves in a pit. Being in a difficult or pain-filled season rarely makes sense. And trying to figure God out never helps; “My thoughts,” he says, “are not your thoughts.”

(As if we need reminding of that.)

What does help, I’ve found, is knowing that God is in the pit with you.

The Bible tells us that God was with Joseph, both in the fancy house where he served and in the dark jail. And it says that he is with us today–and that he’ll be with us always, to the very end of the age.

Scripture has plenty of “God with you” verses–check out Isaiah 41:10, Zephaniah 3:17, and Hebrews 13:5 for a quick sample set–but one of my favorites (at least when we find ourselves in the dark) is Psalm 139:

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Application?

First, no matter how high we go, how low we sink, or how far we fly, God is there.

Second, he promises to guide us and hold us fast.

And third, the darkness–even the blackest, most desolate night–is not dark to God.

You are not alone

Not long ago, our little farmer’s market purchase made its way to the home of another family member. It wasn’t the first time the “sit with you in the dark” message got re-gifted; that rock has made the rounds with our crew. As one of my daughters once put it, “It’s not something you ever want to get, but when you do, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.”

You are not alone.

Whoever painted our little rock had no idea how powerful his or her message would turn out to be. Because while it’s good to have a friend or a family member who will sit with you in the dark (someone, as the old story goes, with “skin on”), what’s even better is knowing that God is there, too. Our rock points us toward the Rock, the One who is our refuge, our deliverer, and our salvation.

I don’t know what darkness you might be facing right now, but remember: God is with you. He hears your cry. And he will deliver you.

The Bible is brimming with prayers prayed in the pit, and also with songs of deliverance. As you think about your own life, are there places where you have sensed God’s nearness in the dark? How have you experienced his help, his comfort, or his power? Where do you need his presence today?

Reflect on God’s faithfulness, telling him your needs and thanking him for what he has already done. Use any of the verses highlighted in this post if you want a prompt to help shape your prayer, or borrow David’s words from Psalm 40:1-3:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Amen

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Praying for Your Children to be Healthy and Safe

(Note: This post, Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe, ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com, a community of women who are committed to building strong marriages, healthy families, and vibrant relationships with the Lord. You’ll find lots of helpful resources there, from tips on parenting teens to weeknight recipes to a free guide to finding PEACE in your home. Um…yes please!)

I want God to keep my kids safe (2)

Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe

When the Coronavirus first began spreading, our daughter Virginia—who lives in New York City—decided that she should evacuate and come social distance with us. That sounded like a good plan to me; Virginia is a lot of fun, and she’s always full of ideas.

One of her ideas, as she left New York, was to swing by the SPCA and pick up a kitten.

Virginia keeping her kitten safe

Five months later, we were still working from home—my husband and I, two of our four adult children, our one-year-old puppy, and the cat. Everyone seemed happy. One morning, though, Virginia woke up and noticed that Quarantine Kitty had a cut or a burn of some sort on her neck. She was still purring so we didn’t think it was fatal, but Virginia wasn’t taking any chances. She bundled the cat into the car and was at the vet’s office by the time it opened.

The cat, as it turned out, was fine. But Virginia was not. She was rattled.

“I love this kitty so much,” she said, “I can’t stand to think of her getting hurt—”

She stopped, mid-sentence, and looked at me. “Mom,” she said, “I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a child who gets sick or hurt…how panicked you must feel. I bet it’s even worse than when it’s your cat.”

Um, yes. It is worse.

And whether it’s the baby’s 2 a.m. fever, the child’s bloody knees on the playground, or the teenager’s late-night phone call, we all know what it’s like to feel that lump of fear in our throat, to want our kids to be safe, to protect them however we can.

So what do we do?

We pray. We do what 1 Peter 5:7  invites us to do:  We cast all our anxiety on God, because he cares for us.

“I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Twenty years ago, when I began working on a book about how we can pray for our children, I surveyed more than one hundred parents about what they wanted God to do for their families.  One of the most oft-repeated answers was, “I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Boy, did I understand that. We had four kids in six years, and it seemed that somebody was always getting sick or—in Virginia’s case, anyway—running into a doorknob or (not making this up) eating part of a glass thermometer. I knew she was tough, but I wondered how long her luck would hold out. What would become of Virginia during her teenage years?

I remember crying out to the Lord, asking him to protect her. “What happened to the hedge of protection and the guardian angels I asked you to provide for our children?” I cried. “Aren’t you paying attention?”

Almost immediately I sensed God’s answer. “I am protecting Virginia,” he spoke to my heart. “In fact, I’ve had to put some of my best angels on the job, just to keep her alive!”

It sounds funny now, but God’s promise of angelic protection—an invitation he extends to all of us in Psalm 91—was made real over and over again in Virginia’s life, as she grew. And now, as we release the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I can attest to his faithfulness.

My kids—like all kids, I guess—had their share of lumps, bumps, and bruises. And I know that the Psalm 91 promise is not some sort of magical “guarantee” that our children won’t have to suffer. But I am convinced that God hears and answers our prayers, and that his John 15:7 promise (“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”) is true.

Scripture Prayers You Can Pray

Our children are grown, but I am still asking God to protect them and keep them safe. How am I praying? Here are two of my favorite scripture-based prayers; feel free to personalize these for the people you love:

I pray that all may go well with _____ and that they may be in good health, as it goes well with their soul. (3 John 2) 

Let ______ take refuge in you and be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over ______ that they may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)

You’ll find dozens more prayer prompts like these—prayers for our kids’ physical safety, as well as their spiritual and emotional health—in the new book.

God never meant for us to have to keep our children safe on our own. He meant for us to pray, slipping our hand into his as we trust him to accomplish his plans and his purposes in our kids’ lives. And as you pray, know that I am praying for you: “May God cause you to flourish, both you and your children.” (Psalm 115:14)

❤️

You’ll find prayers for your children’s safety, relationships, faith, character, their future, and more in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary EditionThe hardcover volume comes with a satin ribbon and a presentation page (making it perfect for gift-giving), but it’s available in paperback, too. Click here to order.

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Teach Children to Pray (with these free printables!)

How can I teach my children to pray? Where do I start?

I hear questions like these all the time. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed–at least not outside of church,” was how one young mom put it. “Prayer feels awkward and unfamiliar sometimes. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

That’s actually a really good question–and one that led to a new bonus section in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition. The updated book includes pages designed especially to help you teach your children to pray, talking to God not just for them, but with them:

Teach Children to Pray Section in book

Say, for instance, that your child feels anxious or scared. Maybe it’s a conflict with a friend, a fear of the dark, or the fact that the dog really did eat the homework. There’s a discussion starter at the top of the page (“Everyone gets worried or scared sometimes…”), followed by a collection of easy-to-read verses (“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”), and then a prayer prompt that reinforces the link between our needs and God’s provision.

Teach Children to Pray about Feeling Anxious

Every family is different, and what appealed to my kids might not sound at all fun to yours. But as we teach our children to pray–and to depend on the power of God’s Word–it can help to give them “the Why.”

Give Your Children “the Why”

I don’t know how it is in your house, but when Hillary was about five years old, it seemed like every other word that came out of her mouth was why. Sometimes the question reflected genuine interest (“Why is the sky blue?”); sometimes it felt more defiant, like when we asked her to pick up her toys (“Why?”); and sometimes I had no idea what she was even asking about. Once, in an effort to get her to stop peppering me with so many questions, I threatened to punish her if she asked “Why” one more time.

(You can guess what she said.)

Hillary may have been an extreme case on the inquisitive scale (and she grew up to become an aerospace engineer, so maybe she is?), but I think that all kids are naturally curious. And rather that just slapping a Scripture on the kitchen table as a prayer prompt, it helps if we offer some context.

God’s Word makes things happen

Our kids need to know that God’s Word makes things happen. He spoke the whole world into being, starting with light. All the verses we read in Scripture come straight from God to help us know right from wrong and equip us for every good work. And when the words in the Bible go out into the world, they always accomplish what God desires!

As you teach your children to pray, share these things as the backdrop for why there is power in God’s Word. And then introduce them to John 15:7, where Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Tell them what you already know: that the more we spend time in the Bible, allowing what we find there to shape our perspective as well as our prayers, the more the things we want God to do will line up with what he already has planned!

Think this is all a bit much for your kids? I hear you. I was you. Longtime blog readers may remember that, for years, our “morning devotions” consisted of somebody yelling “Bus!” and everyone scrambling for their shoes as I stood in the doorway stuffing permission slips into backpacks and saying things like, “Walk with the King today–and be a blessing!”

(Not making that up. But hey, the Bible says we shouldn’t despise small beginnings; everyone has to start somewhere!)

Coloring Pages, Bedside Prayer Cards, and More

I know that teaching children to pray can be hard. But even the littlest ones have concerns of their own–their friendships, their future, their faith–and the sooner they learn to anchor their prayers in God’s promises, the better equipped they will be to trust him as they grow. Which is why, when we were putting the Anniversary Edition together, my publishing team and I came up with a few kid-friendly resources–colorful printables that reflect the pages and the scripture-prayers in the book.

These little lunchbox cards are perfect for popping into a book bag or taping on the bathroom mirror:

Lunchbox cards to teach children to pray

These 5″ x 7″ bedside prayer cards are the same prayers kids will find in the book:

Bedside Prayer Cards to Teach Children to Pray

And these coloring pages (drawn by my incredibly talented ARTIST-MOM, Claire Gilman!!) make hiding God’s Word in your heart extra fun:

Teach Children to Pray coloring pages

Teach Children to Pray Girl Coloring

Girls coloring - teach children to pray

Want to order the book? Click here – it ships on Tuesday!

Want to view the collection of printable resources? Here you go.

Just want a prayer for your own anxious heart as you head into the weekend? Let’s go ahead and borrow this one from the kids:

Heavenly Father,

I am anxious and afraid about _____. Help me put my trust in you and pray instead of worrying. Thank you for your promise to be with me wherever I go. Help me to be strong and courageous and to rely on the Holy Spirit to give me power, love, and self-discipline. (Psalm 56:3; Philippians 4:6; Joshua 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:7)

Amen

Book by Jodie Berndt with foreword by Audrey Roloff

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Technology and Your Children (and three prayers you can pray)

Twenty years ago, when I wrote the first edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, the biggest kids-and-technology question Robbie and I faced was whether to let our children watch PG movies. On VHS tapes.

Today’s parents face a whole new nest of tech-related concerns–whether it’s the “easy-everywhere” access to online content, the threat of things like cyber bullying, or the very real (and increasingly common) link between high social media usage and low self-esteem and depression.

“The word I might use to describe how parents feel about kids and technology,” one father told me, “is probably panic. Or maybe terror.”

But technology isn’t going away; it will play an important role in our children’s future. Which is why, when I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary EditionI interviewed a bunch of younger parents to see how they were parenting–and praying–with regard to this vital issue. And (spoiler alert) the news isn’t all bad. There are some really good things we can do (and pray!) as we work to keep our children safe and teach them to, as author Andy Crouch says, put technology “in it’s proper place.”

Here’s a sneak peek at an excerpt from the new book–which releases in less than two weeks!–along with a few prayers you can pray for your family right now…

Girl and Technology, Laptop

Not if but when: One Family’s Story

Sara’s 12-year-old daughter, Allison, likes to create collages on the computer, using clip-art images and videos to make her masterpieces. At home, the computers have content filters and other parental controls, but the devices at her father’s office are not as protected. And one afternoon, when Allison was using an office computer to work on a project, some obscene pictures popped up on her screen. Immediately, her father got a text alert from his internet provider:

A porn video has been accessed from this location. A quick review of all the office computers revealed the trouble spot. But when asked what she’d seen, Allison denied all involvement. And the more her parents pressed for details, the more emotional and manipulative she became.

“That was not like her at all,” Sara said. “My radar was on high alert—and I realized that our greater concern was not what she’d seen or the exposure she’d had, but the choice she was making to lie.”

Thinking about what she calls her own “progressive sanctification”—one where the Lord continues to tenderly transform her heart—Sara resolved not to react in knee-jerk fashion, but to slow down and ask God for his counsel. “I wanted the Lord to teach me how to relate to my daughter, knowing that the way I treat her now will affect our relationship and her life in 20 years.”

She started with prayer.

God doesn’t reveal things to scare us

“I know the freedom that comes with confession,” Sara said. “I prayed that God would turn Allison’s darkness into light, and that she would know the joy of walking in that light and enjoying sweet fellowship with other people and with Jesus.”

Eager to have her own burden lifted, Sara reached out to an older friend—someone she knew she could count on not to gossip or pry, but to pray.

The woman responded with reassurance. “When God alerts us to something that is not right in our children’s lives,” she said, “it’s not because he wants us to be worried or scared. It’s because he wants us to pray. Our prayers open the door to God’s redemption, protection, and blessing in our kids’ lives.”

Noting that Allison likely felt embarrassed by what she had seen (and maybe scared to admit it), Sara’s friend pointed her toward Psalm 25 as a prayer prompt:

  • Let Allison put her hope in you, Lord. Let her never be put to shame. (v. 3)
  • Relieve the troubles of Allison’s heart; free her from her anguish. Take away all her sins. (v. 17-18)
  • Guard Allison’s life, rescue her, be her refuge. May integrity and uprightness protect her. (v. 20-21)

Sara and her husband continued to pray verses like these, trusting in the Genesis 50:20 promise that God could take something so clearly intended for evil and use it to bring about something good in Allison’s life.

It wasn’t long before he did. The following Sunday, after hearing their pastor talk about the freedom the comes with confession and the triumph of grace over shame, Allison pulled pulled Sara aside.

“I need to talk to you, Mom.”

Allison broke down and revealed all that had happened, including her attempts to cover up what she’d seen by lying about it. As she confessed, Sara saw her daughter’s countenance change. It was as if a cloud lifted; Allison’s shadowy face became joyful and radiant.

The transformation made sense to Sara. “When we keep things hidden,” she said, “it always leads to deeper and darker things. It’s a mercy, not a burden, to be found out.”


kids and technology, phone

Three “technology use” prayers we can pray

Technology use is just one of the new chapters you’ll find in the expanded and updated version Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. Other topics include things like praying for your child’s identity and their sense of belonging, as well as strategies you can use to build a prayer legacy in your family, teaching your kids to depend on God’s promises as they grow. You can pre-order your copy today (see info, below) but in the meantime, here are three short-but-strong scripture prayers from the book that you can pray for your children right now:

Heavenly Father,

May we live with a heart of integrity in our home. Don’t let _____ set anything worthless before their eyes. (Psalm 101:2-3 CSB)

Cause _____ to look to you and be radiant, turning away from anything that would cover their face with shame. (Psalm 34:5)

Put your hedge of protection around _____. (Job 1:10)

Amen

❤️

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition ships on October 20. To preorder (and pssst, the hardcover version comes with a ribbon book mark and beautiful presentation page for gift-giving), click here for Amazon (they give me a tiny commission if you order from my site), or try ChurchSource.com, where (last time I checked) they were offering the book at a sweet pre-order discount. Whoop!

And if you missed last week’s story about praying for your children to share God’s love with their peers (my favorite prayer story in the whole book), click here to catch up!

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20 Years of Praying for Your Children

Pssst. I’ve got some exciting news, and I wanted you to hear it here first! Many of you have been praying for your children with me for twenty years and…

in just a few weeks–on October 20th, to be exact–we’re releasing the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

This new edition has all of the stories, prayer principles, and verses folks loved in the original book, but we’ve updated it to include topics like praying for your children’s use of technology and their sense of identity and self-worth, along with an encouraging message about prayer’s role in parenting from New York Times bestselling author, Audrey Roloff. Plus, there’s a whole new kid-friendly section designed to help parents pray not just FOR their kids, but WITH them, teaching them to depend on God’s promises and his power as they grow.

I’ll be sharing more in the weeks ahead (including links to the free Study Guide and the Video Series), but to kick-off this launch, I want to revisit one of my all-time favorite stories about praying for your children. Here’s an excerpt from the book…

Making the Most of Every Opportunity

For years, Friday mornings were a highlight of my week. That’s when I got together with several moms to pray for our children, their teachers, and our school community. In addition to interceding for our kids’ individual needs, we used a different verse from the Bible each week as the basis for a more general prayer that can apply to each of our children.

One morning, our collective scriptural request was for our children to have boldness in evangelism, being alert to opportunities to share the gospel with their peers. Being part of a public school community, we recognized the need for sensitivity in this area, yet we knew that God could provide open doors. We prayed according to Ephesians 5:15 – 16, that our kids would be very careful how they lived — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.

Two or three weeks went by, during which time we moved on to new requests, tucking the evangelism thoughts into the back of our minds. Then one morning Callie walked in, her face flushed with excitement. “Remember when we prayed for our kids to have boldness in evangelism and be alert to opportunities to share their faith?” she asked. “Well, listen to this . . .”

Callie began her story by reminding us about a second grader named Eddie, whose misbehavior was almost legendary in our school. We had all heard of Eddie — the tales our kids brought home tended to catapult Eddie to the top of our prayer lists, and those of us who had spent volunteer hours in Eddie’s classroom knew, firsthand, how disruptive he could be. Thinking of Eddie, we often prayed that God would give his teacher, Miss Harrison, an extra measure of wisdom, patience, and love.

Many of the children instinctively tried to put some distance between themselves and Eddie, but Callie’s son, Brandon, took a different approach. He befriended the boy, inviting him to be involved in games and on playground teams where he might otherwise have been left out. And one day when Miss Harrison asked each child, as an in-class assignment, to write a letter to someone, Brandon chose to write to Eddie.

A Life-Changing Letter

When the time came for the children to deliver the letters, those who had written to parents, grandparents, or neighbors put their notes in their backpacks to take home. Brandon simply dropped his envelope on Eddie’s desk. Eddie opened the letter with excitement, but when he took out the sheet of paper, his face fell. Eddie couldn’t read well enough to get beyond the first few words.

Recognizing the problem but not wanting to draw attention to it, Brandon quietly asked Miss Harrison if he could read the letter aloud to Eddie.

Miss Harrison just happened to love God — and Eddie — as much as Brandon did. “Yes,” she said. “You can read it to him today at recess.”

That afternoon, the two boys sat on a log under the shade of an old oak tree, oblivious to the noisy shouts and energetic games being played all around them. Eddie pulled the letter out of his pocket and, leaning closer so he could hear, waited for Brandon to read it.

Dear Eddie,

Please, please ask Jesus to come into your heart. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Jesus died on the cross for your sins.
  2. You will have eternal life.
  3. God (Jesus’ father) is maker and creator of all.
  4. You will go to heaven.
  5. You can have anything you want in heaven.
  6. I will be waiting for you.
  7. God will be waiting for you.
  8. Jesus will be waiting for you.
  9. You can do anything in heaven.

 

P.S. All you have to do is right now bow your head and say “dear Lord, I want Jesus to come into my heart so I can have eternal life.” Amen.

Opportunity to meet Jesus letter

Eddie leaned back, reflecting on Brandon’s words. “Would you,” Brandon asked cautiously, “like to pray and ask Jesus to live in your heart right now?”

Eddie met his friend’s eyes. “Yes,” he said softly.

Sitting together at the edge of the playground, the two boys bowed their heads in prayer as Brandon led Eddie into the kingdom of God… ❤️


Even today, more than twenty years after I first saw Brandon’s letter, this story still puts a big old lump in my throat. I know Brandon (not his real name) and I can tell you that, as an all-grown-up man with a job and a wife, he’s still “making the most of every opportunity” to showcase God’s love.

If you want to be praying for your children using verses like Ephesians 5:15-16, you’ll find dozens of similar scripture-based prompts in the book. Here’s one of my favorites, a verse you can pray for your kids, yourself, or anybody you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for their hope. Let them do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Amen

Opportunity to pre-order the book

To preorder Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition, click here.

 

 

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New Post: What Makes a Good Marriage?

What makes a good marriage?

That’s the question I popped at a small dinner gathering not long ago. Looking around the room–two couples were newly engaged, two others had passed the thirty-year mark, and the rest were somewhere in between–I wondered what people would say.

“You need to look for ways to serve one another,” one husband said, “putting each other’s needs ahead of your own.”

“It helps to remember that you’re on the same team,” added a young wife. “You don’t want to ‘win’ a fight because that means your spouse has to lose. It’s not you-versus-them; you want to be fighting for your marriage together.”

“Share each others’ passions,” chimed in a third couple. “If you don’t love something the other person enjoys, learn more about it. You might discover you like it, after all.”

(That last comment reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago about how watching football can upgrade your marriage.)

I loved everything everyone said. The simple words spoke volumes and reinforced something I’d read about satisfaction in marriage: namely, that kindness glues couples together.

Kindness is key to satisfaction in marriage

You might think that the secret to a successful union comes down to other things. Good communication, perhaps, or sexual compatibility. Or not having money problems, or issues with in-laws.

These things all matter, of course. But when it comes to predicting long-term stability and satisfaction in marriage, kindness is what matters most.

What makes a good marriage? Kindness

Kindness counts.

And it’s not just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning (although researchers at the National Marriage Project are big on little “I love you’s” like that); studies show that having a generous mindset–appreciating your spouse’s intentions, even if the even if the execution is iffy–is key.

Your husband, for instance, might not have been “deliberately” trying to annoy you when he left the toilet seat up; it could be that he’s just absent-minded. Your wife might not be late for dinner “on purpose.” Maybe she just had to stop by the store to pick up your gift.

(As someone who often keeps her spouse waiting but rarely shows up with a gift, I will go ahead and tell you that I did not make up those examples. I got them from one of the “Love Lab” psychologists quoted here.)

But you get the idea. Instead of being on the lookout for your spouse’s mistakes, look for things you can appreciate and say ‘thank you’ for. Be intentional about showing respect. In humility, as Scripture says, value your spouse above yourself, looking not to your own interests by to theirs.

But…what if I’m just not that nice?

I can imagine what some of you might be thinking. I thought the same thing, when I read the research. “I want to be kinder to Robbie,” I said to myself, “I really do. But…I’m just not that nice.”

(It’s true. My husband is way more thoughtful and generous than I, both to me and to others. As I’ve often said, “I might make friends for us, but Robbie is the one who keeps them.”)

But here’s the thing about kindness: It is not something we have or we don’t. The Bible says kindness comes with our salvation as the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. “The fruit of the Spirit,” Paul writes, is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Kindness, like all of these other God-given attributes, is available to every believer.

It works like a muscle, getting stronger with use.

And it also gets stronger with prayer.

Which, actually, brings up some other interesting marriage research. According to a Wall Street Journal article that came out a few months ago, prayer makes a difference–even when one or both partners are being unkind. “When people pray for the well-being of their spouse when they feel a negative emotion in the marriage, both partners—the one doing the praying and the one being prayed for—report greater relationship satisfaction.”

“Greater relationship satisfaction.” That sounds very important and official. But let’s put it plainly, shall we?

If you’re annoyed with your spouse–they left the toilet seat up, they were late again, they did whatever–don’t get mad. Try praying for them instead.

It will make you both happier.

Heavenly Father,

May ______ (insert your names or the names of another couple you love) be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ you forgave us. (Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

P.S. Robbie and I celebrated our 35th Anniversary this week. When I look back at our wedding photos, I am struck by two things.

First, I could not have imagined how incredibly kind my husband would be, or how much more I would love him today than I did back in 1985:

Robbie and Jodie marriage photo

And second, I wonder how on earth I held that ginormous bouquet without my arm falling off. But hey; it was the 80’s. As one son-in-law said when he looked at our pix, “It could have been a lot worse.”

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A Prayer for the Already-Tired Teacher

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or a teacher-parent this year, you know what it’s like to grow weary.

Even if you’re just on Week One.

Tired Cat on First Week of School

And speaking of tired…

If you’ve read Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenyou may remember the time when Hillary (then a first-grader) came home from school and told us that she thought her new teacher was a Christian.

“How can you tell?” I wanted to know.

“Because she prays.”

“She prays?” (Our kids attended the neighborhood public school; I didn’t think teachers were allowed to pray there – at least not out loud, where their students could hear. I needed details.)

“Yes Mom,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ But sometimes she just says, ‘Oh God,’ and puts her head down on her desk.

Prayers You Can Print

If that’s where you are today – praying that nobody gets COVID, that Zoom doesn’t crash, or even just that you’ll make it ’til lunchtime – can I just say “Thank you”? As someone whose own kids are grown, I can only imagine the challenges that younger parents and teachers are facing this year.

My all-time favorite teacher prayer comes from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if they do not give up.”  This year, I’m combining that verse with two others – 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Titus 2:7-8 – and bundling them all into one “ask” for the educators, both the in-school ones and those teaching at home:

A Prayer for a Teacher

Want to print this card for yourself? Click here. (And if you’re feeling extra ambitious and want to add a few back-to-school prayers for the students, you’ll find a collection of my tried-and-true favorites here.)

Honestly though? If all you can muster this week is an “Oh God,” that’s okay. You just go ahead and put your head down on your desk.

We get it.

And those of us not in the teaching trenches will have you covered. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Do not let our teachers (and teacher-parents) get tired of doing what is good. Remind them that, at just the right time, they will reap a harvest of blessing if they don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Amen

Galatians 6:9 Teacher Prayer

 

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As Good as Dead? Think again.

Is there something in your life that is as good as dead?

I’ve just taken a spin through Hebrews, and I can never get through chapter 11 without stopping at verse 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

From one man, as good as dead, came descendants as countless as sand on the seashore

That’s a reference to Abraham, the guy who laughed when God said he’d have a son. He was a hundred years old (his wife Sarah was ninety) and, as Robert Alter puts it in his Genesis commentary, it was a laugh “edged with bitterness.” Was God, Abraham wondered, playing some sort of cruel joke?

As good as dead.

How many times have we looked across the landscape of our lives–our relationships, our careers, our dreams–and thought the same thing? “Nothing is there. There’s no way this can work. That _____ (whatever it is) is as good as dead.”

Here’s the thing, though. With God, that doesn’t matter.

God brings dead things to life

God doesn’t care if we can’t see signs of life; he calls things into existence that do not exist.

Take the universe, for example. Hebrews 11:3 says it was formed “at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” God didn’t have to see something to create it; he just had to say it (“Let there be light”) and it happened.

And when God allowed Sarah to conceive, he did so (and you can check me on this in Romans 4:17) “because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.”

God brought a promise to life–he created a life–because Abraham believed.

I can hear what you’re thinking. I’ve thought the same thing: “I want to believe that God could call this thing–this marriage, this job, this hoped-for baby–into existence, but I just don’t see how it could happen. And if I don’t have faith…maybe it won’t.”

I get that. And, like I said, I have thought that. And if all we had to go on was Hebrews 11:6 (“Without faith it is impossible to please God”), the picture would look bleak, indeed.

But there is more to the story.

Three Hooks for Our Hope

There is much more we might say–much more encouragement tucked into the pages of Hebrews–but if you are struggling to believe God for something that looks and feels as good as dead, here are three hooks for your hope:

First, we don’t have to see something for it to be real. We can still believe it. Faith, Scripture says, isn’t just wishful thinking. It is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Second, faith is not something we need to create or produce in ourselves. Jesus, the Bible says, “initiates and perfects our faith.” He starts it. He finishes it. He supplies what we lack and makes it complete.

And finally, God’s horizon is infinitely bigger than ours.

When Abraham laughed, it was because he knew what God had promised–that he’d be the father of many nations–but it had not yet happened. Nor would it, he thought, at his advanced age. Abraham was, Alter says, “someone living within a human horizon of expectations.”

A human horizon of expectations. Am I the only one who reads a phrase like that one and thinks, “Ouch”?

Because we do that, don’t we? We apply our human horizons–our timelines, our procedures, our perceived ideas of what will work best–to our lives, and when things don’t turn out like we wanted or expected them to, we figure that God has let us down. Or that we didn’t have enough faith. Or that the situation, whatever it is, is as good as dead.

But it’s not.

God’s ways are higher than ours

The Bible says that God is always at work. That he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And that, when his plans or his methods don’t match up with ours, that’s okay; we can be confident that his ways are higher than ours.

Abraham is just one in a hallway of heroes whose lives are recapped in Hebrews 11. None of these people saw God’s promise fulfilled–at least not in the way, or at the time, they expected. But did that negate their faith or diminish their assurance that God would do what he said he would do? Not at all. They all died, Scripture says, “still believing,” welcoming God’s complete and perfect provision “from a distance.”

We can do the same thing. We can expand our perspective, acknowledging that our timelines (and even our lifetimes) do not limit God’s power or his provision. We can stop “living within a human horizon” and start praying with faith–with confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see–for every need.

For the prodigal child.

For the broken marriage or friendship.

For the desire–the unmet longing–that is as good as dead. We can ask God to bring that dream back to life.

Heavenly Father,

I am concerned about ______.

Please bring this dead situation or relationship back to life; create a new thing out of nothing; make something that can be seen out of what is not now visible. (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3)

Be the source and the perfecter of my faith, providing and completing what I lack. Equip me to believe as Abraham did, against all hope, trusting that your thoughts and your ways are higher than mine. (Hebrews 12:2, Romans 4:18, Isaiah 55:8-9).

Amen

 

 

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Don’t talk to your kids about God?

(Note: This post about how we can talk to God about our children appeared earlier this week over at Club31Women as part of their new Strength and Dignity Devotional series. Thought I’d share it here in case you missed it. Happy Fourth!)

Don’t Talk to Your Kids about God?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God.”

I exchanged a look with the woman sitting next to me at the young mother’s Bible study. Where was the teacher going with this?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God,” she repeated, “nearly as much as you talk to God about your kids.”

Talk to God about your kids

Ahhh. That made more sense. And over the years, as our four children became teenagers and then young adults, that value of that advice grew right along with them.

My husband and I wanted our kids to love Jesus. We wanted to showcase God’s attributes—his faithfulness, his mercy, his power, his love—so our children would know Him. We wanted to talk about His Word, like Deuteronomy 6:6-8 says, sitting at home and walking on the road, from early in the morning until late at night.

We wanted to talk about God all the time—and there were plenty of days when our kids might say that we did.

But there were also plenty of days when they did not want to listen. Plenty of days when it felt like our children were out of our reach, emotionally and spiritually, even if they were sitting just across the dinner table. Plenty of days when all our best parenting wisdom fell flat.

The answer, those days, wasn’t to talk louder, or more. The answer was to talk to God.

Mindful of verses like Isaiah 55:11 (which promises that God’s Word does not come back empty but accomplishes his purposes), we used Scripture to give shape to our prayers.

We asked God to captivate our kids’ attention: “Make _____’s heart a stream of water in Your hand; turn it wherever You will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

We asked God to let their words and deeds line up with his plans, to give our children “the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)

And we prayed that our kids would know how much they were loved: “I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

We prayed prayers like these (and we’re praying them still), knowing that shaping our kids’ faith—along with their character, their relationships, and their future—is not up to us. It’s up to God. And honestly? Even though His answers have not always looked like what we expected (or wanted, sometimes), I can say with confidence that God has been faithful.

He has listened.

And He has been good.

The next time you feel like your kids are tuning you out or like they don’t want to hear what you have to say (or like you aren’t sure how to help even if they did want your advice!), don’t be discouraged. Instead, talk to God. He’s the one who, as Romans 4:17 puts it, “calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

He can create anything—even faith—out of nothing.

Heavenly Father,

Your bend down to listen to our prayers, and you invite us to pour out our hearts to you on behalf of our children. (Psalm 116:2 and Lamentations 2:19)

Today, our need is for ___________. Please call that into existence, even if there seems to be nothing there now.

Amen

Talk to God about your kids Lamentations 2:19

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Three Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Marriage Partner

Children looking out church window

It’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner. We can ask God to choose our kids’ spouses and, through prayer, we can forecast his favor and blessing on our sons- and daughters-in-law, long before we ever meet them in person.

Consider how Abraham did it.

When the time came for Isaac to marry, Abraham had some fairly concrete ideas about the type of wife he wanted for his son. She couldn’t be a Canaanite; rather, he wanted someone from his own country, someone whose family acknowledged the Lord. Too old to make the journey himself, Abraham sent his servant to find a good match for his boy.

The servant stood beside a spring in Abraham’s hometown and, as the young women came out to draw water, he prayed a very specific prayer: “May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Obviously, Abraham’s servant was asking God for a sign. But I think there was more to his prayer than this. I think that when he prayed for a girl who would offer him water — and water his camels as well (all TEN of them!) — the servant was asking God to show him a girl with the kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, patience, and strength that Isaac would value in a wife. And indeed, Rebekah turned out to be all of these things, and more.

Be specific when you pray about your child’s marriage partner

Over the years, I’ve talked with parents who’ve come before God with all sorts of requests regarding their child’s marriage partner.

One of my friends — whose own folks divorced when she was a young girl — prays that her children will marry men and women from unbroken homes. Another mom asked God to let her kids find their mates early in life, both so they can enjoy the blessing of marriage as they “grow up” together and to lessen the pressures of sexual temptation during their young adult years. Two young men we know are praying for wives whose lives are marked by honesty, virtue, and a good sense of humor. And I recently met a young soccer player who led her team to a DI conference championship; she told me that she couldn’t imagine marrying anyone who didn’t love playing sports, so she’s asking God to set her up with an athlete.

Is it wrong to be so specific with God?

I don’t think so — particularly when our prayers are wrapped in an overarching desire to see God’s will be done. In fact, I think our heavenly Father loves to grant these requests. Not long ago, I heard from a young gal who was in a Bible study I once hosted for middle school girls. She’d just gotten engaged and when I asked her how she knew that “he” was the one, she laughed. “It was obvious!” she exclaimed. “He checked off every one of the prayers that I’d put in my journal when you told us to pray specifically for our future husbands. After praying these things for over ten years, he was easy to recognize!”

Three ways you can pray for your child’s marriage partner

So let me ask: What are your desires for your children’s marriages — and, in particular, for the people that they will marry?

Truth be told, I have kind of a long prayer list when it comes to my kids and their spouses, including the prayer prompts I shared in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then added to in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. (Because just like it’s never too early to pray for your child’s marriage partner, is it also never too late.) But there are three things that are tops on my list, prayers I return to again and again:

I pray that my kids will marry people who love God deeply — with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength — and who will love their neighbors as themselves. That’s a request rooted in Mark 12:29-31.

I ask God to give my children and their spouses good relationships with their parents, to grant them the blessings that Exodus 20:12 promises to those who honor their fathers and mothers.

And I pray that my kids’ marriages will be marked, as Ephesians 4:32 says, by kindness and compassion and a willingness to quickly forgive. (What marriage doesn’t need that?)

“Let him/her be the one You have chosen”

Our two eldest children, Hillary and Annesley, got married within four months of each other. Planning two weddings at once was…interesting. But what a joy it was, when Charlie and Geoff sought my husband’s blessing to marry our daughters, to look at these two young men — each one a living, breathing answer to twenty-plus years of prayer — and think to myself: “So it’s you!”

Annesley and Geoff leaving their wedding

 

Hillary and Charlie wedding photo

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s marriage partner. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are single or married, four years old or forty, walking closely with Jesus or still finding their way; God hears every one of our cries. And his answers continue to unfold, long after we finish praying.

So let’s join our voices with generations of families who’ve gone before, praying as Abraham’s servant did: “Let her/him be the one you have chosen.”

Heavenly Father,

You can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

Grant that our children will be people — and marry people — who love you deeply. May they love others well and enjoy good relationships with their parents and in-laws. May they be kind, compassionate, and quick to forgive. (Mark 12:29-31, Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Annesley and Geoff celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary tomorrow. If you or someone you know is planning a wedding, you might find encouragement from reading their story. What’s that old saying? “Man plans and God laughs…”

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Teacher Appreciation Meets Mother’s Day

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. To all the professional teachers out there:  Thank you. For now, and for always.

It’s also Mother’s Day. And to all you moms who’ve added “teacher” to your job description in recent weeks (months? is it years yet?):  Thank you, too.

Some of you seem to be crushing it on the homeschooling front. My pal Elizabeth, for example, adopts a British accent when she teaches her children.  (Maybe she thinks they won’t realize she’s Mom?)

"British" teacher doing school with her kids

And I loved the way that Caitlin, a California mom, put her own COVID spin on the traditional Presidential Physical Fitness Test:

 

Clever, right? (I was more than a little impressed.)

Hope for the Overwhelmed Teacher-Mom

Honestly, though? I’ve heard from plenty of you who don’t feel so creative. You feel overwhelmed. Over-tired. Over it. You couldn’t muster up a British accent to say “Shaken, not stirred,” much less to give a spelling test.

One precious young mom sent me this:

teacher question meme

If that’s where you are, can I just offer two bits of advice?

First, hang in there. Don’t give up. Get yourself an index card (even a fake teacher has those at home, right?) and post Galatians 6:9 on the fridge:

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 graphic

 

And second: Don’t compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.

Seriously. That might be the best piece of parenting advice anybody ever gave me, when our kids were young. And it applies to pretty much everything, from your marriage to your job to your effectiveness as a freshly minted school teacher.

Life Lessons from Little League

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember what happened back when I got drafted to coach Little League. Read that post here, if you want; the nutshell version is this:  I knew nothing at all about baseball, but that didn’t matter to my team, the Purple Wolves, at least not at first. We spent our practice time perfecting our cartwheels, working on our team cheer (a growl, paired with a threatening “wolf stance”), and honing our baseball-themed jokes (“Why did the sausage quit playing baseball? Because he was the wurst on his team”).

Life was pretty good. But then Game Day arrived.

I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. My Wolves seemed pretty happy–until they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” one kid said.

I followed his gaze. The other team wasn’t seated just yet, but you could tell where they’d be. Every single one of the 14 spots in the opposing lineup was clearly marked on the ground by a carpet sample. A carpet sample! And on top of each tidy square sat a matching red water bottle, with a little baseball stopper on top.

“We’re gonna get killed!” a wolf moaned. A few others agreed. And fear spread through my team like wildfire.

Can I just interrupt myself here and let you know that this was tee-ball? If you know anything about tee-ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed. But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three-deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

Watch Out for The Comparison Trap

We do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives (or our social media feeds) and see moms whose kids are smiling around the kitchen table, workbooks opened, pencils raised, and shirts (clean shirts!) buttoned correctly, while we sit there wondering if the corkscrew would make a good show-n-tell. Or if tracking the steps between the couch and the fridge counts as math.

You know? We can’t help it. We look around at how everyone else is coping with COVID-19 and we think to ourselves:  We don’t have what it takes.

We’re failing at this.

We’re gonna get killed.

We give insecurity a little foothold in our lives and then, like the Purple Wolves’ fear, it starts to spread.

Here’s the thing, though:  Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. And if we spend our time scrolling through what other people look like instead of focusing on who we really are—beloved children of God, whose power is made perfect when we are weak and whose grace equips us for every good work—we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

So let’s not. Let’s stop looking across the field at the kids with their matching water bottles, and let’s look up instead. Let’s look at God.

Because He is looking at us. And, like the parents who turned out to watch the Purple Wolves play, He doesn’t care if his kids are sitting on carpet squares or a blanket.

He just wants us to know how much we are loved.

Heavenly Father,

Help me pay careful attention to my own work, getting satisfaction in a job well done, so that I won’t need to compare myself to anyone else. (Galatians 6:4)

Amen

❤️

And P.S., if you want a few prayers you can pray for a teacher (or, a-hem, for yourself), click here to download this printable card:

Teacher Prayer Printable

And if you’re looking for some fun new activities to incorporate into your daily routine, check out the FREE ebook from my friend Susan Yates. (I’m not sure the toilet paper fitness challenge is in there, but she’s got 100 other fantastic ideas!)

Cousin Camp eBook graphic

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Crisis Control: How do you respond?

How we respond in a crisis reveals what we really believe about God.

How we respond in a crisis reveals what we believe about God

The word crisis, says author Henry Blackaby, comes from a word that means decision. How we live our lives–and what we actually decide to do when we face what he calls a “crisis of belief”–speaks volumes about how we regard God.

In the past few weeks, we’ve watched Christians respond to the COVID-19 crisis (if we can call it that) in myriad ways. Some have wept over lost lives or in sympathy with those who are sick. Some have fasted and prayed, calling on God to end the plague, and/or use it for his glory. And some, like my friend Michelle, have wept, prayed, and rolled up their sleeves and started sewing masks to donate to food pantries, healthcare workers, and regular old neighbors like me:

Jodie wearing a mask

(I added the personalization; Set a guard over my mouthseemed apropos.)

“It’s all right.”

The purpose of today’s post is not to tell you how to feel, or even what to do. It’s simply to highlight an example of how one mother behaved when her child was in crisis and offer a pattern for prayer we can follow–whether we’re facing a global pandemic, a marriage breakdown, or a teenager who just came home drunk.

Scripture tells the story of a childless couple who befriended the prophet Elisha, adding a guest room to their home so that he’d have a place to stay when he came to town. In return for their kindness, Elisha promised that they’d have a son the following year, and they did.

One day, the child complained of a headache. The woman–the Bible just calls her “the Shunammite”–held her son and watched, helpless, as he died in her lap. She laid the boy on Elisha’s bed, closed the door to the room, and went to find the prophet, telling her husband nothing other than that everything was “all right.”

While the Shunammite woman was still some distance away, Elisha saw her and sent his servant to ask whether everything was okay. “Everything is all right,” she repeated. But Elisha knew she was in distress and, when he finally found out what had happened, he reacted immediately. Elisha told his servant to run to the boy and lay Elisha’s staff on the child’s face.

But…the Shunammite woman was not a fan of that plan. She didn’t want the servant; she wanted Elisha–and she vowed not to leave unless the prophet came too. So Elisha got up and followed her home.

Which turned out to be a good thing, because the servant could get no response out of the boy. When Elisha arrived, he went into the room, shut the door, and prayed, stretching himself out on the boy’s little body. Within moments, the child came back to life. Elisha gave the boy to his mother, who bowed at his feet. And then, the Bible says, she “took her son and went out.”

The end.

I want to do what she did

As a mother, I find this story nothing short of astounding. I’m not sure what I would do if my child died in my lap, but I can guarantee you that my first response would not be to say, “It’s all right.” But as I dig into how the Shunammite woman behaved–which says a lot about what she believed about God–there are definitely some tent pegs in there, steps we can use to anchor our trust when life turns inside out.

First, the Shunammite did not panic. She knew she needed God and, instead of surrounding herself with worriers, skeptics, or mourners, she went straight to the one person she knew who would look beyond the present reality and see her circumstances through heaven’s eyes. That’s what I want to do:  I want to hang out with people of faith, people who can help me see a big God.

Next, she persevered, accepting nothing less than God’s best. Emboldened by love for her child and her belief in God’s power, the Shunammite woman clung to the prophet’s feet and refused to let go. That’s how I want to pray; I want to hold onto God and never give up.

And finally, when her answer came, she gave glory to God. The first thing the Shunammite woman did was to fall at Elisha’s feet, acknowledging God’s power and grace. And, if you read the rest of her story, she continued to live by faith–a posture that wound up saving the lives and the fortunes of her entire family when the next crisis struck.

The silver lining

If there’s a silver lining in crisis situations, it’s that they remind us of how much we need God. They break down our notions of self-sufficiency, reveal our inadequacies, and remind us that we’re not in control. (Which, by the way, is why the advice to “wash your hands” translated into “Get toilet paper!” as a response to the coronavirus. We needed to do something, psychologists say, to make ourselves feel stocked up and prepared.)

The silver lining in crisis situations is that they can drive us into God’s arms.

And you know what? He doesn’t want us to be worried or anxious (“Don’t be afraid” is the most oft-repeated command in the Bible), but at the end of the day, God doesn’t care whether we show up panicked or peaceful. He welcomes us either way. And he delights in our prayers.

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ not to be afraid, but to know that you have called them by name and they are yours.

Be with _____ when they go through rivers of difficulty; when they walk through the fire of oppression, don’t let them be burned.

May we acknowledge you as God, the Holy One, our Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

Amen

❤️

You can read more about the Shunammite woman, and how other families put their trust in God during their own scary situations, in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenChapter 12 is called “Praying for Kids in Crisis.”

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The Prayer Circle Letter (the answer for social distancing?)

Note: This post showed up last month over at Club31Women, a place where you can find encouragement and inspiration on everything from family life, to dealing with anxiety in uncertain times, to knowing what to fix for dinner tonight (I’d pick these fudgy cappuccino crinkles). When I wrote these words two months ago, I didn’t know how much I’d be craving connection today–or how grateful I’d be for the prayer partners who continue to remind me that, whether we’re six feet or six states away from each other, we are never alone…

The Prayer Circle Letter

Daniel did it. Moses did it. Even Jesus did it. All of these Bible people – and plenty more – asked their friends to join the prayer circle.

And I was reminded of the power of multiplied prayer earlier this year when I got together with my best college pals.

Prayer Circle Reunion

I shared that pic on my Instagram feed, along with one taken a few (okay, more than a few) years earlier:

What makes this group precious to me, apart from the fact that we share memories now like we shared clothes back then (which, given that we mostly wore leg warmers and shoulder pads, was maybe not as appealing as it sounds), is the way that these girls talk to God. We’re spread up and down the east coast, but all it takes is a phone call or a text message to prompt us to pray. And, more often than not, the request is for one of our kids.

It sounds simple now, but it wasn’t always that way.

Life Before Facebook

None of us had gotten very far along in our parenthood journey before we realized that we were in way over our heads. Don’t get me wrong; motherhood was (and is) an incredible blessing. But you know how all the young moms share their birth stories on social media now? I’ll just go ahead and tell you that, the day after Hillary entered the world, I was pulling the nurse cord to ask the epidural man to come back and give me the full-body treatment this time. (And did they have an extra to-go needle that I could maybe take home?)

I knew I’d need help. And so did my friends, when they left the hospital with their own bundles-of-joy. We wanted each other’s support but, spread out as we were (one of us lived in Japan!), we couldn’t just pop by with a casserole, a burp cloth, and some wine. The best we could do was to pray.

And in what I still consider one of her most inspired decisions, Annesley (top middle, in the old college pic) came up with a way to keep us connected. We didn’t have access to email chains, Facebook groups, or text threads (nobody had invented the internet yet), so Annesley started a letter. We could, she said, write our prayer requests on actual paper and pass the letter around. We’d pray for each other’s needs, record God’s answers, add new requests, and then pop the whole thing into a new envelope and send it on. A prayer circle, facilitated by postage stamps!

I have no idea how many times that thing made the loop, or where it is now. But when the girls and I got together two months ago, we didn’t need a written letter to let us know that God had been at work in our families’ lives. Our children’s needs have changed over the years, but God hasn’t. And what a joy it was to remind one another that our kids’ stories are still being written!

Invite God into the Prayer Circle

The Power of Multiplied Prayer

Praying with other people is nothing new; again, Daniel recruited his buddies; Moses had Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms; and Esther called all the Jews in her city to fast and pray. God loves it when his children get together – and he loves to listen to us, even if we’re not actively trying to get his attention! Consider Malachi 3:16:  “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.”

(Kind of wild, right?)

And lest there be any doubt about the power that is unleashed when believers connect with one another in prayer, Jesus put it very plainly for his disciples:

“I tell you,” he says in Matthew 18:19-20, “if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

When two or three of us get together, Jesus is there. And that, says bestselling author Ray Stedman in his book, Talking with My Father, “is the charter principle underlying all prayer meetings.”

If you don’t already have a friend or two who will join you as you pray for your child (or even for strangers, during this crazy COVID time), ask God to give you a prayer partner. Be alert to the names he might put on your heart, and don’t be afraid to take the initiative and invite people to pray with you. You don’t have to be formal or fancy – and you certainly don’t need to start by writing a letter that you can all pass around.

Just come together. And know that Jesus will be with you in your prayer circle.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your promise to be with us when we gather in your name. Today, as we meet virtually instead of in person, let us consider how we can encourage each other. And, as we have opportunity, show us how to do good to all people. (Hebrews 10:25,  Galatians 6:10)

Please encourage _______ today.

Amen

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A Healthcare Worker’s Take on COVID-19

I know it’s not polite to read other people’s mail. But when I got this letter from Emily, a precious young healthcare worker, I asked if I could share it with you. Emily is a family nurse practitioner who’s served in some of the world’s neediest places, most recently in Bangladesh with Rohingya refugees. Today she’s working in a COVID-19 isolation unit at one of our nation’s largest public hospitals.

I hope you’ll find Emily’s words as encouraging as I did, and that you’ll join me in praying for her – and for her co-workers and their patients – in the days ahead.

Healthcare worker Emily

Dear Friend,

What a week. It’s been nearly impossible to keep from being overwhelmed by the onslaught of statistics, restrictions, and realities of the coronavirus over the last several days. However, I spent some time with the Lord today and was so encouraged by what He said that I thought I’d share it with you, in hopes that you too will feel empowered and purposeful in this wild season. 🙂

God can take what is evil and use it for good

When asking the Lord this morning about the current coronavirus situation, He first reminded me of Who He Is. Though many things are uncertain, He is certain. Though so much is unknown, He is known. Though this virus is strong, He is stronger. Though the information and situation are changing rapidly, He never changes. Though the spreading of coronavirus seems out of control, He never loses control. Though we are separated from our friends and loved ones, His love can never be separated from us. Though the enemy intends this virus for evil, the King of Kings can turn it for our good and for His glory.

Our Father reminded me of His heart to heal, and that He loves to give good gifts to His children. He reminded me that He is always moving, always working, always speaking, always looking for people who are vessels willing to receive what heaven wants to bring to earth. He reminded me that we have not because we ask not, and that He loves to be generous and lavish blessings upon us.

He reminded me that my circumstances are not a reflection of His faithfulness, nor a measure of His goodness. He reminded me that He hates to see His creation suffer, and that He longs to bring restoration and redemption to His children.

But what can we do?

Being reminded of these things, an urgent question arose inside of me, one that I think many of us have been asking in this time of quarantine and separation:

“What can we do? What should we do, Lord?” I asked Him.

I have always felt the need to DO. I am a doer at heart, and if you’re anything like me, the idea of being unproductive is terrifying. Thus, the recent “in-home sheltering” and restrictions on work AND on gathering with people have rendered me feeling somewhat worthless over the last week. This forced separation and new space has felt disempowering instead of energizing, and I have felt restless inside, wondering what I can possibly do to help.

So I asked Him again, “What can I do, Papa? What is on your heart for me to do?”

In the stillness, the Spirit replied, “Rest, My child. Rest in Me.”

I was struck by this instruction. “Really????? When the whole world seems to be coming undone, You just want me to REST?? That’s all?? There’s got to be something more helpful for me to do!!!!”

The Spirit then explained, “How can you receive the healing and hope and restoration that I have for My people when you are frenzied and focused on what you can do? This is not about you.  Instead, focus on what I can do, and on receiving what I have to give. I have sooo much to give. I am looking for those who are willing to stop, to sit in My presence, and to receive. Not those who are desperate to do on their own. My child, in your desperation to feel productive, you let frenzy and fear overtake your heart and mind, and you miss this opportunity to be with Me. The secret to this season is to enter the rest I have for you, not to try and do.   

Then Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” -Isaiah 30:15

God wants to do more than “flatten the curve”

What a perspective shift. The desire of the Lord for me today is to return to Him and rest in His Presence. In the quietness of my room, He wants to renew my trust, which will strengthen me for the days ahead. He is mighty to save, eager to love, and always intervening… it is up to me to posture myself at the foot of His throne and rest in order to receive what He has. And we can know with confidence that what He has to give is better than anything the world has to offer in this time. He has things to give us that will do so much more than just “flatten the curve” or “stop the spread”….He has gifts to give that include everlasting hope, miraculous healing, and unending love. He wants to save our world not just from the coronavirus, but from an eternity without Him. And we, as His people, get to be a part of this restoration and redemption…if we are willing to rest. 

In a place of rest, we will find ourselves in His Presence, connected to His heart. In being connected to His heart, we will actually be able to hear the voice of Our Good Shepherd… and then we can receive His wisdom and His power as He faithfully leads us through the treacherous paths ahead.

In a place of rest, we also are at the end of ourselves; we are surrendered at His feet, letting go of all we think and all we want to do because we realize that His ways are higher and better than ours. When we choose to rest, we will finally be available to do the work that He has for us, which will undoubtedly be more impactful and helpful than anything we can do on our own.

Just Say Yes

So, dear friends, the invitation from the Holy Spirit stands waiting for you and me both: will we rest? Are we willing to let go of our fears and uncertainty and instead grab onto the hands of Perfect Peace Himself? Are we willing to push through the temptations to make to-do lists and curate feelings of usefulness, and instead sit patiently in the stillness and quietness? Are we willing to humble ourselves at the foot of the throne, to worship Him as we wait, thanking Him now for the miracles we have yet to see?

If our answer is yes, then I believe we will see more healing and more courage and more strength in the body of Christ than ever before. If we say yes, we have the privilege of not only finding rest for our souls, but being a part of bringing that rest to those around us. If we say yes to rest, we can be more in love with our King and more empowered to receive the kingdom.

I pray that together we can say, “Yes, Lord. Yes to Your rest. Yes to Your Promises. Yes to Your Love. Yes—may Your kingdom come, may Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” May we say “yes” to what the Lord has for us in this moment, for we were made for such a time as this.

❤️

Will you join me today in a prayer for Emily, and for all the healthcare workers who find themselves on the front lines?

Heavenly Father,

Spread your protection over our doctors, nurses, and everyone in the healthcare field. Surround them with your favor as with a shield. Protect them from worry and fear; may your peace stand guard over their hearts and their minds. Take what was intended for harm and use it for good, to accomplish what is now being done:  The saving of many lives. (Psalm 5:11-12; Philippians 4:6-7; Genesis 50:20)

And may all who are weary and burdened come to you, learn from you, and find rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Amen

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Be Still and Pray

Note:  I shared this “Be Still” how-to on Facebook and Instagram earlier this week. Based on the feedback I got, I figured I’d post it again here, along with some of the other favorite scripture-prayers people shared. I’ll be back next week with a more regular post, but in the meantime, I can’t think of a better way to keep COVID-19 fear and worry at bay than to take hold of a Bible promise and let it sink into your soul…

Be Still

An anchor that holds

Reading the scriptures is not the same thing as praying the scriptures. And today, as we find ourselves tugging at anchors to see which ones will hold, let’s give the latter option a try.

Read Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Now let’s pray it:

Heavenly Father,

Help me be still. Let me get off the treadmill of worry, busy-ness, confusion, and fear. Quiet my heart. Help me be still.

I want to KNOW that you are God. I don’t want to just hope that; I want to be certain. Show me, God. Let me know…

…that you are GOD. You are in control. You are the Lord of lords. King of kings. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. You are God.

See how that works? With just a few breaths, we can move from panic to peace, from striving to stillness, from fearful to free.

Try this at home

If you like this idea, here are a few more scripture-prayer anchors, shared by our Facebook and Instagram friends. Just click on the verse, read it, and then turn it into a prayer:

Psalm 91:4

Psalm 5:11-12

Zephaniah 3:17

2 Timothy 1:7

Colossians 1:9-14 (a longer prayer, but one that is jam-packed with good stuff for yourself and for the people you love–things like wisdom, strength, patience, joy…and the promise that we have already been rescued!)

❤️

I’m sending love your way today, along with gratitude that in a world marked by social distancing, we can still meet on the bridge of prayer. See you next week!

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Coronavirus Concerns: How to Cope

Thanks to the Coronavirus, I am learning new things.

Like, I didn’t know what “social distancing” was, or that it could be a healthy thing. Now I do. And I have a whole new respect for folks like my husband, who has never once struggled with FOMO and will be fine if we get quarantined.

Or WFH. (Who knew that what I’ve been doing as a writer for the past 25 years had its own acronym?)

Or even the fact that people, when panicked, will hoard toilet paper. I read where one newspaper actually printed eight extra  pages in a recent edition–“emergency rations” was how they put it. Can you imagine?

Actually, I can.

Because the newspaper people are not the first ones to make this particular link. Years ago, my mom asked me to donate a carton of books for a mission trip she was going on. When I learned that the supply coordinator had asked her to bring toilet paper, I balked. “Mom,” I said, “Don’t you think the missionary people will wonder why, when they asked you for toilet paper, you brought books instead? What will they think when they go to the supply cabinet and open the box?”

“They will think that it’s brilliant!” my mother exclaimed. “Because with toilet paper, all you have is toilet paper. But with your books, you can read them, and then, if you still need supplies…”

Anyhow.

I hadn’t planned to post a blog this week, but I figured that if we’re all WFH and feeling socially distanced, maybe a few words of comfort would help.

I’ve written about things like worry and fear in the past. If you’ve got time for a longer post, click here to read about how–whether we’re up against a bear market, a bear of a disease, or an actual bear–God doesn’t want his kids to be scared. For now, though, I’ll share just two quick recommendations.

Replace the bad with the good.

First, have a plan. Anyone who’s ever tried to accomplish a goal–Lose weight. Save money. Stop cussing–understands the importance of action steps. It’s not enough to just state the objective; you have to replace the bad habit with something better. Something good.

Which may be why, when Paul said, Don’t worry about anything, he followed that command up with this charge:  Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Don't worry (about the Coronavirus)

That verse–Philippians 4:6–was apparently the “verse of the year” for 2019. I don’t know who decides stuff like that, but if we needed to swap our worries for prayer last year, how much more do we need to make the trade now?

So here’s Part One of the plan:  When you feel the fingers of worry starting to crawl up your back, don’t panic. Use them as a trigger–or a prompt, if that’s a happier word–to remind you to pray.

Look up.

Part Two of the plan is to quit looking around and look up.

Longtime blog readers will know that Sara Hagerty is, in my view, one of the most gifted writers of our time. I savored her last book, Unseen, and now she’s got another masterpiece hitting the shelves–one that can help move us from panic to peace.

Adore Book Cover

I pre-ordered Adore the moment I caught a glimpse of the cover. And now that I know a little more about what’s inside (click here for a quick peek at the trailer), I CANNOT wait for this book to arrive.

Because here’s the thing.

Sara knows what it feels like to worry. To live in the world of what if. To wonder if you’ll ever measure up…or if your child is okay…or even why you didn’t get invited to that party.

Or if your loved ones will be safe in the weeks ahead.

More than that, though, Sara knows that God wants to meet us right there in those thoughts–in the “middle minutes” of our lives. And to get us to look up. At him.

Adore releases on March 31st.

Which, if you think like my mom does, might turn out to be perfect timing if you run out of supplies…

And in the meantime, here’s one of my favorite anti-virus prayers you can pray for yourself, for the people you love, and for strangers on the other side of the world:

Heavenly Father,

Spread your protection over ______. Surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

Amen

❤️

P.S. If you want more scripture-based prayers to keep Coronavirus fear and worry at bay, hop on over to Instagram and check out the latest post by @abigailCBN. And as always, if you order a book that I recommend in this space, Amazon sends me a teensy commission…which means I can keep buying new books and letting you know which ones are the best!

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God knows what we need, so why pray?

God knows what we need

God knows what we need even before we ask him. So…why should we pray?

The short answer, of course, is “Because I said so.” As in, we pray because God tells us to. (See, for instance, Philippians 4:6, Matthew 7:7, and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 .)

But there’s more to the question – and the answer – than that. And as I was thinking about it this week, I remembered a post I wrote years ago, one where I shared a picture of a poster my father gave me, wall art that I hung in my high school bedroom, and then my college dorm room, and which I still have today:

IMG_4026

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

God knows what you need

I know my dad meant for the message (which is a quote from Jesus, in Matthew 6:8) to point to my Heavenly Father, but I felt like it applied to him, too. Dad usually did know just what I needed, and he was always quick to provide an encouraging word, a sound bit of advice, or even, sometimes, a gift.

Sometimes, it was a gift that I didn’t think that I needed:

My father and tennis racket

And other times, it was something I was sure that I did. Like when my father gave me an introduction to Jesus.

You can read the longer version of that story in the earlier post; the nutshell report is that Dad (who’d been a Sunday school teacher, a rec-league coach, and every other decent thing that a person could be) was stunned to discover that the Christian life wasn’t about trying to be “good”. But when he explained the whole sin-and-grace thing to me, it made perfect sense.

(I was eight, at the time. I knew I was a sinner. And I was super grateful for grace.)

My dad would have celebrated his 81st birthday this week. I’ve written about his battle with brain cancer in this space before, and I’ve shared how much I miss him, even after 20 years. There have been so many times in my own parenting journey when I’ve wished, more than anything, that I could have him around. Times when I’d love to seek his advice. To ask him to pray. Or to just see his smile.

Today, when I hear people wonder why we should pray (“I trust God to do what’s best for my family,” was how one man put it, when he told me that he didn’t pray), I often think of my dad. And how, even though I knew that he knew what I needed, I’d still ask him for stuff–whether I wanted a new dress, a dose of wisdom, or the car keys. After all, he was my dad.

Which is, I believe, why God wants us to pray.

Prayer signals relationship

At its most basic level, prayer signals relationship. John Wesley said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” That’s a claim that the Bible reinforces. God could do stuff on his own – heal this person here, make it rain there – and sometimes it seems like he does. Far more often, though, we see him waiting on people, engaging with people, getting to know people – and then meeting their needs – through their prayers.

Prayer acknowledges our dependence on God. It’s a way of saying, “You’re God, and I’m not.” And whether we’re talking to God because we need a healing or some other tangible blessing, or we want guidance for life, or we just like to hang out in his presence, the ultimate effect of our prayers is to draw us closer to him. “God works through the prayer process,” wrote Jennifer Kennedy Dean, “to expand our vision, to deepen our hunger, to stretch our faith, and to lift our desires higher. We start the process desiring something from him; we end it desiring only him.”

All of which is to say yes, God does know what we need, even before we ask him.

But he still wants us to ask.

And this week, as I’ve found myself missing my dad, I’m more grateful than ever to have had an earthly father who pointed me toward my Heavenly Father. He is the One who loves us enough, and is powerful enough, to do more than all we could ever ask or imagine. He is the One who loves it when we pray.

Heavenly Father,

I know that every good gift comes from you, that you know my needs, and that you are able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine. (James 1:17, Matthew 6:8, Ephesians 3:20).

Today, I ask you to ___________.

Amen.

 

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Life Lessons (and Prayer Prompts) from a Dog

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you’ll remember how frightened our dog Max was, when he met a big black lab on the boardwalk:

A few weeks ago, Minnie met (and was terrified of) the very same dog.

Minnie and the Black Lab

Which reminded me of the lesson Max taught me, back in his day:  Namely, that it doesn’t matter what we are facing, God does not want us to be anxious or scared. His love – his perfect love – drives out fear.

(Even when the thing we are scared of is fake.)

You can read more about confronting fear here, if you missed that earlier post. But today just happens to be Minnie’s FIRST BIRTHDAY (a Valentine’s baby!), and as I was scrolling through photos of her this past week, I realized that she has taught us just as many lessons (and prompted just as many scripture-based prayers) as Max did.

And so, if you’ll be so good as to indulge me, I’ll share just a few. These are all areas where I need God’s help; feel free to borrow any prayers that appeal to you too.

Encourage one another daily.

Minnie and lacrosse

When Minnie joined our family last year, she didn’t have much choice about where she would go, or what she would do. But she tends to be very supportive and enthusiastic about pretty much every endeavor. You get the idea, looking at her, that she is hoping that you will succeed.

Heavenly Father, help me be someone who encourages other people every day. (Hebrews 3:13)

Whatever you do, do it for God.

 

Dog Minnie and laundry

“Whatever you do,” the Bible says, “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” When you’ve got some big, important project to do, it can be easy to tell yourself that you are “serving the Lord.” Laundry, though? Not so much. (But hey,  God is all about making things clean…)

Heavenly Father, no matter how big or how boring my job is, let me work with all my heart, as though I am working for you. (Colossians 3:23)

Listen more than you speak.

Minnie has this one down. She doesn’t speak – she barely even barks. But whenever we hang out together, I am reminded of how nice it is to have someone who is always willing to listen. Which is a hard thing for me, sometimes. I like to talk.

Heavenly Father, help me be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19)

Pray about everything.

Dog and Prayer Book

Do animals pray? I don’t know. But Minnie has certainly been exposed to a lot of good books on the subject, and she’s heard plenty of prayers. And if she could talk, I bet she’d quote Paul:  “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.”

Heavenly Father, help me exchange worry for trust, praying about everything and thanking you for what you have done. (Philippians 4:6)

Know when to rest.

Dog resting on Dad

Here again, Minnie sets a stellar example. Because she’s just like me. She spends a lot of her day racing around. (Sometimes in circles.) But she knows when to quit, when to be still. She trusts that someone is keeping her safe.

Heavenly Father, life can be crazy and wild. Help me be still and know that you are God. (Psalm 46:10)

Love each other.

Dog Minnie and Friends

Life is better with friends; we all know that. And when Jesus tells us to love each other, he doesn’t leave us to try to be a good friend on our own. We love, he says, because he first loved us.

Heavenly Father, show us how to love other people with the same self-sacrificing love you lavish on us. Let us love out of your love, because you loved us first. (1 John 4:9-19)

Sooo…

Happy Birthday, Minnie. Here’s to many more years of praying the scriptures with you!

And to everyone else: Happy Valentine’s Day. You are LOVED! ❤️

Minnie on the Lawn

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Cover Your Child with God’s Presence

I don’t know who coined the term “prayer covering,” or who it was that first offered to “cover” someone in prayer. (Maybe it comes from verses like Psalm 5:12, which talks about God covering us with his favor?)

Again, I don’t know.

But when I was a guest on Focus on the Family last year, I said that one of the reasons I like praying the Scriptures so much is that, when we pray God’s Word over our kids, we literally cover them with the presence of Christ.

Cover our Children with God's Presence

 

John tells us that Jesus is the Word, and that He always has been. So when we use the Bible to shape our prayers for our kids – when we “cover” them with God’s promises – what we are really doing is blanketing them with His love.

With His protection.

With His very person. His presence.

During that radio interview, I mentioned a line from a poem I’d once heard – something about how when our children are young, we tuck them into bed and cover them with a blanket, but that when they are older and out of our reach, we cover them with our prayers. I didn’t remember the poem or its author, but the crack team of Focus on the Family researchers looked it up.

And sent it to me.

And I liked it so much that I figured I’d share it with you. The poem is called “Mother’s Cover,” and it’s by a woman named Dona Maddux Cooper. Here you go:

When you were small and just a touch away,

I covered you with blankets against the cold night air.

But now that you are tall and out of reach,

I fold my hands and cover you with prayer.”

Isn’t that a good one?

I don’t know where your children are today (and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure where my beloveds are, either!), but I do know that our kids are never out of God’s reach, and that He invites us to join Him in the work that He wants to do in their lives.

He invites us to pray.

And if you’re like me and you like the idea of blanketing your loved ones with God’s presence, here’s another “covering” verse we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Cover ______ with your feathers. May they find refuge under Your wings. Let Your faithfulness be their shield. (Psalm 91:4)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I love the photo in today’s post, don’t you? I’ll be sharing more of the same on my Instagram (@jodie_berndt), thanks to the generosity of my super-talented photographer friend, Karen Woodard. Karen has an eye for finding the exquisite in the midst of the ordinary, and I can’t wait to show you more of her work!

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Hope for the Stay-at-Home Missionary

Have you ever wanted to be a missionary?

Me neither.

Which is tricky, because I come from a big family of missionary-type people. My aunt and uncle were doctors in Madagascar. My brother worked as a coach in China. My step-dad started an organization to bring jobs and education to some of the world’s most destitute people in India. My sister spent two years in Siberia. (Siberia!) And just recently, my 80-year-old mom hopped on a plane–by herself–to meet up with a team of healthcare workers in Kenya.

All of these efforts (and plenty more) were undertaken with an eye on The Great Commission, the part of the Bible where Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And all of these efforts (and plenty more) have born really good fruit.

Meanwhile, I’ve stayed mostly at home, donating money and sending up prayers.

Water for Africa

Recently, I attended a fundraiser for FAD, a group that brings much-needed water (the regular kind, as well as the living variety) to Africa.

 

FAD Missionary at the well

Watering the crops

FAD Missionary Team

The presentation was super engaging, the speakers brimming with hope and joy. Honestly though? Hearing their stories, I felt kind of guilty. All of these wonderful missionary-minded people seemed so fired up about bringing water and education and God’s love to Tanzania–some of them were even climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds–and all I could think was, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so content to stay home and pray? Why don’t I want to climb?”

Okay so that last question is kind of rhetorical. Still, though, I felt like a lame-o Christian. What difference does prayer make, when stacked against stuff like actually building a well? I know God has wired us to be people of impact–that he has good work, prepared in advance–that he wants us to do. Why wasn’t I grabbing my shovel and boarding a jet?

(And okay, so I know the well-diggers don’t actually carry shovels. But you know what I mean.)

And God is so precious. He didn’t berate me. Or scoff at my question. Instead, he gently reminded me of a man that I know–another missionary through whom God has brought thousands upon thousands of people to Christ.

This man was once a young hot-head, a passionate fellow whose behavior could make his mom cry. Riddled with arthritis and confined to her bed, she could do almost nothing to rein-in her son. All she could do was lie there and pray.

Which she did.

And God moved. He moved in the young man’s life and then, as the legacy of this momma’s prayer continued to unfold, God poured his Spirit into the lives of countless people on the other side of the world.

Prayer is part of the work

Prayer is part of the work. It’s how we partner with God to accomplish his purposes here on earth. It can be grueling (think of Paul’s friend Epaphras, a guy who spent his time “wrestling” in prayer) but it’s a labor God values.

Consider King David’s perspective.

Back when he and his men were going up against the Amalekites (who’d burned David’s city and made off with all their wives and their children), 200 of his guys didn’t come. They were emotionally and physically spent. Rather than charging into the fight, they stayed behind with the stuff.

When the battle was over and David returned (having recovered all of their people and a whole lot of plunder), the men who’d done the fighting did not want to share. They figured that they’d done the hard work; the others didn’t deserve anything, since they’d done nothing but guard the supplies.

But David wasn’t having it. He credited God with the victory and established a new post-battle rule:  “The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” (1 Samuel 30)

Which is a really good reminder for us.

Because life is a battle. Some of us are on the front lines in a very physical sense. Some of us wage war from our prayer closets (or even our beds). Some of us care for the wounded, comforting others with the same comfort that we have received. All of us have work to do, whether we’re tackling the Amalekites or ensuring the safety of the supplies.

So if boarding a plane is your thing (and I pray that it is; we need people like you!), go.

If you’re a money-giver, do that. (And if you want to help bring water to Africa, please consider donating here. The FAD folks are legit, and their work is effective.)

And if you want to join me in prayer, here’s a promise I’m praying for the people of FAD and for their beautiful African friends:

Heavenly Father, fulfill your word in our midst:

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.

(Isaiah 58:10-11)

Amen

P.S. Can I just share a little disclaimer? When I say I’ve never wanted to be a missionary, that’s not entirely true. I wanted to, once. I even went on a few mission trips. (And I’ll go again, should God, um, tell me to.)

On the plus side, I got to marvel at God’s goodness and reap the joy of loving others, and being loved in return.

Children in India

India prayer team

On the minus side, nobody told me that we’d be riding wild elephants (like, seriously, these were not OSHA-approved animals) the day I opted to wear my cutest dress…

Elephant ride

 

 

 

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The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Note:  This post appeared earlier this week on Club31Women. They’re featuring a “Fresh Start” series in January, with tips on everything from organizing your home (yes, please!), to meal-planning and parenting helps, to a 100-Day “Love You Better” Marriage Challenge in the New Year. Good stuff, all around!

 

The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Which habit do you want to carry into the next year?

We were three hours into a family car trip during the Christmas holidays when my daughter pulled that card out of the box. It was a good question. Looking ahead to 2020, which habit would I choose to continue?

My mind cataloged all the usual suspects:  Exercise. Organization. Healthy eating. Financial fitness. I’d made small gains in each of these areas in 2019, and I knew I wanted to keep honing those habits. None of them, though, felt particularly dynamic or productive, at least not in a life-shaping way. I kept thinking.

And I remembered a line from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life:

“No other habit,” Warren wrote, “can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflections on Scripture.”

Rick Warren, Scripture

 

Daily Reflections on Scripture

Daily reflections on Scripture. That was it. That was the single most valuable habit I wanted to carry into the new year. I don’t just want to read my Bible; I want to reflect it. To examine it. And to let it examine me – shaping my thoughts, my actions, and my conversations – so that my life dovetails with God’s designs, and so that my prayers line up with his purpose.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at in John 15:7, when he made one of the most jaw-dropping statements in the Bible. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you,” he said, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Put another way, what this promise means is that the more we allow Scripture to penetrate our hearts and our minds – pruning out the bad stuff and breathing life into what’s good – the more our desires (and our prayers) will reflect what God is already planning to do.

I can’t think of a better jumping-off place for 2020 than that.

And honestly? All of those other good habits and resolutions – from taking care of our bodies to managing money wisely – find their inspiration in Scripture. There is not a need we will face, a goal we can set, or a healthy discipline that we can practice that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in his word.

Effective time management? “Teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Dealing with things like worry and fear? “Let us not be anxious or afraid, but instead cast our anxieties on you, knowing that you care for us.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Increasing your giving, or your kindness toward others? “Prompt us to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Those are just a few of the life-shaping prayer prompts we find in the Bible; there are countless more to discover. And the best part? The best part of Christ’s John 15:7 promise isn’t just the fact that we can ask for whatever we want. The best part is that when we take God up on his invitation – abiding in him, and letting his words abide in us – we get to live out John 15:8:  We bring glory to God. We become productive, fruit-bearing people. And we discover the security of knowing that we are Christ’s disciples, that we belong.

31-Day Prayer Habit

If you like the idea of reflecting on Scripture each day – of allowing God’s word to shape your perspective, as well as your prayers – can I invite you to join me in a 31-Day Prayer Challenge? Let’s kick off the new year by looking at the Bible not just as something to read, but as something to pray. Let’s allow the words that we read – words first spoken by God – to animate our conversations with him.

Any passage will do (because again, Scripture is full of transformational promises, principles, and prayer prompts), but if you’d like some help getting started, you can download a printable 31-day calendar here.

There’s a different verse for each day of the month, with topics ranging from relationship needs, to character qualities, to ways to develop and strengthen your faith. Pray through each day’s verse slowly, out loud if you can. And whether you’re praying for a family member, a friend, or yourself, try to return to the prayer several times during the day so that God’s word will take root and give birth to hope in your heart.

“My word,” God promises in Isaiah 55:11, “shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

So which habit will you carry into the new year? I hope you’ll join me in letting the power of God’s word accomplish his very best plans in 2020, both in your life and in the lives of the people you love.

Heavenly Father,

May we delight in your word, meditating on it day and night, so that we will yield fruit in season and prosper in all that we do. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Amen

And P.S., if you want to know where we got the question game for our car trip, it was a tip from my son-in-law, Charlie, who saw it advertised on Instagram and thought, “That looks like a Berndt thing.” He was right. We loved it. And if you want your own game, you can order it here.

(There’s also a set designed just for couples…which Charlie got in his stocking this year. #Mother-in-Law Goals.) 😊

(I only recommend books and other products I really like on this site, and if you order via a link that I share, Amazon sends me a small commission…which, as you know, I almost always spend on more books so I can share the really good ones with you!)

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Perception: A Good Word for 2020

Perception.

It’s a great word, particularly at the start of a New Year, when we long to see what God is doing (or what he might want to do) in our lives.

Because it can be easy to miss – or misunderstand – what he’s up to. It can be hard, sometimes, to realize that he is  accomplishing his purposes, right in front of our eyes. For instance, when the woman poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus, his disciples objected. How much better, they thought, it would have been to sell the precious ointment and give the money to the poor.

“Why this waste?” they wanted to know.

U.Va. cornerback Bryce Hall could have asked the same thing. A solid NFL prospect and the team’s defensive star, Hall considered bypassing his senior year in favor of the draft but sensed God calling him to return to Virginia. Midway through the season, though, he suffered a freakish injury that ended his college football career.

Once the shock wore off, it would have been oh-so-easy for Hall to take up a mantle of confusion. He could have grown bitter in the midst of the pain. Angry, even. Nobody would have blamed the All-American had he looked at God and said something like, “I trusted you, God. I did what I thought you wanted me to do. What a waste.”

But…that’s not how Hall saw things.

Bryce Hall

The Power of Perception

“The word I’ve been (coming back to) in this process is perception,” Hall told a reporter, in a lead-up to this week’s Orange Bowl. “Are you going to get bitter or are you going to see the lessons that are in this and know that everything happens for a reason and that God works all things out for our good?”

Hall was referring to one of the best-known verses in the New Testament, Romans 8:28, which promises that God works in all things – even the confusing, painful, and unwanted stuff – for the good of those who love him.

In Hall’s case, some of that good is already taking shape. He’s forged a closer bond with the team chaplain, grown in his relationship with the U.Va. coaches, and emerged as an even stronger team leader. Plus, thanks to the extra free time in his schedule, Hall started dating a U.Va. field hockey player who shares his Christian faith.

(What’s not to love about that?)

Even more significant, though, is Hall’s deepening relationship with the Lord.

“When I said that about the Lord calling me back,” he said, “we have our own plans and our own ideas of what that might mean, but ultimately he’s the one. He sees everything and he knows what’s best for us.

“I feel like through this injury, it’s brought me a lot closer to him.”

Closer to Christ

Which, in a roundabout way, is the same thing that happened with Jesus and the perfume. Because rather than being “wasted” on him, it was used for the most exquisite of purposes. “Why are you bothering this woman?” Jesus asked the disciples. “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”

She did it to prepare me for burial.

She did it, in other words, so that all of us could one day be brought closer to Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the cry of my heart for the New Year. I want to be, to borrow Hall’s words, “brought closer” to Christ. And when circumstances or events leave me confused or hurting, I want God – the one who sees everything – to give me eyes to perceive his purpose in the pain.

(And to remind me that I can still trust him when I don’t.)

Which is, I think, the very thing that God wants for us, too. One of my favorite New Year scriptures – a passage I return to, year after year – is Isaiah 43:18-19:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”

In God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste.

I don’t know what pain you might be carrying from last year into this one, or where life has left you confused. But can I encourage you, as we turn the page on the calendar, to consider the fact that, in God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste? He uses it all – the good stuff and the bad – to accomplish good things in our lives.

So let’s ask God to open our eyes.

Let’s ask him to sharpen our perception.

And, most of all, let’s ask him to bring us closer to Christ.

Heavenly Father,

Free us from our tendency to dwell on the past; open our eyes to the new thing that you are doing. You are making a way in the wilderness, pouring your Spirit into the dry places of our lives. Let us perceive it and proclaim your praise! (Isaiah 43:18-21)

Amen

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Black Friday Favorite (Plus a Promo Code!)

It’s Black Friday. Which means that nobody has time for blog reading. So I’ll keep this one short.

Because if you’re like me…

You’ve built your day (okay, your season) around football. Specifically, you’ve built it around today’s matchup between the Beloved Cavaliers of U.Va. and the Reviled Hokies of Virginia Tech. Never mind that Virginia hasn’t won this particular contest in 15 years; Vegas oddsmakers are calling this one a toss-up.

(Which, as every diehard U.Va. fan will tell you, means that there’s a 90% chance we will lose.)

(But hey. Faith the size of a mustard seed, and all that.)

And if you’re like the rest of the tryptophan-coma’d Americans…

You’ve built your day around shopping. And I’ll let you get to it. With just one little recommendation, before you go.

Get yourself a Growth Book.

Growth Book Insta pic

I didn’t even know such a thing existed a few months ago, but now that I have one, I’m hooked. Part prayer journal, part accountability partner, part “dream big” encourager, the Growth Book can literally be a life-changing tool.

Unlike most journals, this one comes with prompts. There are sections for setting goals, keeping track of your prayers (and God’s faithfulness!), and recording which parts of the Bible you’ve read.

Bible Reading Record

And, since the pages are designed with dots (they’re not blank; they’re not lined), there’s room for both the creative types and the more anal among us to flourish. For instance, here’s how my daughter Hillary might opt to memorize Scripture…

Growth Book illustration

…and here’s how I’d do it:

Memory Verses in Growth Book

Best of all, you get to decide how you want to use your Growth Book. Thanks to a clever system of stickers and labels, you create your own Table of Contents…

Growth Book Contents

…meaning that if you take notes on a sermon or podcast one day and then start noodling about career dreams the next, you don’t waste any pages. You just put a handy little marker in your book so you never have to say, “Shoot! I know I had a good idea last month. Where did I put that?”

There’s so much more to say (like, I love the big post-it notes that you use every month to see what’s working well and what isn’t), but I know. Amazon’s calling. So get back to your Black Friday shopping. First, though, can I just give you a little Black Friday present?

I met Bree (the brainchild behind the Growth Book) when she gave me my book. And even though I’ve only known her for a few months, I feel like we’re friends. Good enough friends that I could say, “Can I please have a promo code?”

And she said yes!

So if you want your own book, click here to visit the Growth Roots Co. website. And if you want to know more before you jump in, click here to see what’s inside. And if you want to get 15% off (um, that would be a yes please), put JOY15 in the promo code box before you check out.

And for those who don’t want to buy anything but still want to grow, here’s a Black Friday Prayer that can help:

Heavenly Father,

May our roots grow down into You, and may our lives be built on You. Cause our faith to grow strong in the truth we were taught and let us overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)

Amen

❤️

P.S. One more thing. Maybe two.

First, to all of you “I need to do this the right way” people (anyone? anyone?), here’s a little heads up:  Don’t obsess. You’ll get your book and you’ll be intimidated. I was. I kind of still am. The pages look so good blank and you won’t want to mess ’em up until you know what you’re doing. But don’t wait. Jump on in. You’ll figure it out as you go. Plus, Bree offers all sorts of tutorials on Instagram (@growthrootsco), and there’s actually a new “how to” page that comes with every book purchase. #Helpful

And second, consider giving a Growth Book to your friends. It meets all of the “must have” Christmas criteria:  Something you want (to grow closer to Jesus), something you need (to grow closer to Jesus), something to wear (the book can double as a hat in the rain – trust me), and something to read (because you’ll return to what you’ve written, over and over again).

Growth Books for Friends

 

 

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Parking Place Prayers: Yes or No?

One of my favorite things about being an author is getting to travel around the country and talk about how we can pray for the people we love. And one of the people I love just happened to be able to join me earlier this month at an event in Greenwich, Connecticut…

Our daughter Virginia thought she was just there to listen, but when we got to the Q&A part of the evening, someone in the crowd had a question for her. “How did you feel,” the woman wondered, “about growing up with a mother who prayed?”

Never one to shy away from an honest question, Virginia got up and grabbed hold of the mic.

“I didn’t like it,” she said.

I held my breath. This could go any number of ways.

“For starters,” Virginia said, “Mom was always praying that if we did anything wrong, we’d get caught. And we were always getting caught.

“And,” she continued, “She made us pray all the time. Like, if we were going to the mall, we’d pray about what we had to buy. And we’d ask God for a parking space. Or to give us energy, if we felt tired. It all just felt like…a lot.”

I could feel the crowd tensing up. I knew what they were thinking. They’d been tracking with me during my talk (when I’d covered things like asking God to provide self-control in our children, protection for our teens, and help for our older kids as they battled addictions, marriage break-ups, and other grown-up issues), but this was new ground. Shopping trips? Parking places? Energy levels? Were those really the sort of details we should be bugging God with? Doesn’t he have more important things on his mind?

Happily, Virginia wasn’t quite finished.

“It seemed strange, at the time,” she said. “Looking back, though, I think it was really good for us to hear, and be part of, prayers about everyday things. It made talking to God so much more real and relational, rather than something that we thought of as scary, complicated, or just plain hard to do.”

I exhaled, wiped an invisible bead of sweat from my brow, and thanked Virginia for her candor.

Is it okay to pray about life’s little stuff?

Later that week, though, I started to wonder. Is it okay to talk to God about life’s little stuff? Like, I would never want my familiarity with him to take away from his holiness, from the fact that he is actually God. And if I did not get a primo parking spot, I hoped he knew that I’d be okay. It wouldn’t derail my faith; rather, I would probably reason that God knew I needed the walk–and maybe even that I needed to thank him for the fact that I could walk.

Still though, the question lingered. I had a professor in college who admonished me for “talking a lot, but never saying anything.” I didn’t want God to see me in the same light, as though my prayers made him think of a small yappy dog.

And then, as if on cue, the doorbell rang. It was the Amazon guy, bringing me a new book:

How to Pray Pete Greig

(Sidebar:  If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have a bit of a #hoardingsituation going on when it comes to books about prayer…

Books about Prayer

…that pic is only about half of my stash.)

Anyhow, I opened How to Pray and (not making this up) I read this:

“One of the greatest theological questions of our time in the realm of petitionary prayer appears to be whether we should ask God for parking spaces.”

Seriously? Was Pete Greig – co-founder of the 24-7 Prayer Movement – really going to write about parking spaces? He was!

“It seems to me,” Greig went on, “that the answer is clear:  Yes, we should indeed ask God to give us parking spots. Why? Because when we pray for places to park, we become the kind of people who worship God for a patch of concrete outside a supermarket on a rainy Saturday in January.”

Ahhhh. I loved that. I felt like Greig, a self-described “Scruffy Brit,” understood my motivation. In asking God for a parking place, it wasn’t that I felt entitled to one, or that I could “claim it” in prayer or whatever. Rather, my request was born more out of relationship, out of an understanding that every good gift–the big stuff and the small–is, as James said, “from above.”

I read on.

Living with “Greater Gratitude”

“When you pray about the small things in life,” Greig said, “you get to live with greater gratitude. If you only ever pray about big, ugly, gnarly problems that seem onerous and serious enough to warrant divine intervention, you will only very occasionally experience miracles. But when your learn to pray about trivia…you start to notice how many minor miracles are scattered around in the course of an average day.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I mean, literally:  I couldn’t. Every single chapter in Greig’s book features wiser, kinder, and more well-informed insights on prayer than anything I’ve ever written. I don’t even have to pray about putting this one in the stockings, this year. It’s such a better Christmas morning surprise than the posture brace. (Which, if you’re new to this blog, explains why Yours Truly really does need to pray about shopping. God had no part in choosing that particular gift.)

And honestly? You’re gonna want a copy of How to Pray for yourself. Because it’s that time of year, and when you come out of the store loaded down with a cart full turkey, potatoes, and Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce in a Can, you’re either gonna want that sweet parking spot, or you’ll want the reminder to be grateful that you have a car in the first place.

Even if it is parked a half-mile away. 🙂

Heavenly Father,

Teach us how to pray, and to live with greater gratitude. May we rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Amen

 

P.S. I only recommend books that I really do love, and if you purchase via the link in this blog, I get a tiny credit from Amazon. Which I will most likely use to purchase more books about prayer.

Either that, or something for my kids that is better than this:

photo 2

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What Wisdom Does (besides make you look good)

Back before I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I surveyed more than 100 parents about what they wanted God to do for their kids.

(And yes. That was a long time ago, before things like Facebook or SignUpGenius or whatever it is that hip people use to do surveys today. Back then, half the people I knew didn’t even have email. So when I say I surveyed people, think “carpool-line stalker.” That was me.)

Anyhow, when the answers came in, you can imagine the stuff people wanted. Things like safety and protection. Good friendships. Salvation, and the ability to use their gifts and talents for God. And all manner of character traits, from kindness and compassion…to diligence and self-control…to wisdom and discernment.

Which, as I think about it, might be one of the best prayers of all. Because asking God to give your children (or your spouse, or whoever) wisdom is asking Him to equip them to receive every other blessing He wants to provide.

Wisdom quote

When we ask God to give our children wisdom and discernment, we aren’t just asking Him to help them make good choices. We are asking God to open their minds to the way that he works, allowing them to respond to life with his perspective. And we’re setting them up for a lifetime of intimacy with Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The spillover effect from this type of relationship can be invaluable. Consider just a few of the things that wisdom can do:

It helps us manage time well. (Psalm 90:12)

It makes us better listeners. (Proverbs 1:5)

It provides direction and purpose. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It opens the door to things like happiness, riches, and a long life. (Proverbs 3:13-17)

It offers protection from the seductions that might lead us astray. (Proverbs 7:4-5)

It leads to strong, joy-filled family relationships. (Proverbs 10:1)

It even makes us look better! (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

(I mean, seriously. Who wouldn’t want some of that?)

So let’s ask God to fill our children (and all of our loved ones) with wisdom today. You can find plenty of prayer prompts in the book; for right now, though, here’s one of my fav’s:

Heavenly Father,

Fill _____ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that they might live a life worthy of you and please you in every way. (Colossians 1:9-10)

❤️

P.S. For more reflections on the value of wisdom, plus 10 biblically based wisdom-prayers you can personalize for your family, co-workers, or friends, check out Chapter 5 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

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Pray for Your Children (and let ’em know it!)

(Note: This is Part 2 of a post about how we can pray for our children. It ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a site where you can find encouragement for marriage, parenting, and all sorts of other good-for-life stuff, from menu prep tips to Bible study how-to’s.)

I’ll never forget the story that our daughter came home with after her first week at a new school.

“Mom,” six-year-old Hillary said, “I think my new teacher is a Christian.”

We’d just moved to town and didn’t know anyone. I was intrigued. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“I can tell because she prays,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ Some days, though, she just says ‘Oh God’ and puts her head down on her desk.”

I laughed—at first. But then I realized that the teacher’s prayer—Oh God, help—is one I’ve prayed over and over again, particularly in my parenting journey. And it’s a prayer that King David used a lot, too; Psalm 70 is pretty much one long cry for God to show up!

God, Help

God, help is a good (and perfectly legitimate) prayer. But there’s another strategy I like to use when I pray, especially when I pray for my children. I like to take the actual words we read in the Bible—words first breathed by God—and use them to give shape to my prayers. Not just to help define my requests, but also to influence my desires for their lives.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at when He said, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s John 15:7. It’s a powerful promise—and one that becomes easier to understand when we allow the Bible to illuminate our understanding and transform our perspective. When that happens, the cry of our heart becomes the very thing that God is longing to do!

And honestly? There is not a need we will face in parenting—or in any of life—that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in His word.

Say your child struggles with questions about their identity or their sense of self-worth. Psalm 139:14 can become a powerful prayer:

Help ________ realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are Your marvelous workmanship.

Or what about loneliness? Proverbs 27:17 speaks to that concern:

Surround ______ with wise and faithful friends, people who will sharpen them as iron sharpens iron.

And Scripture offers a treasure trove of promises about things like wisdom and guidance. Consider praying Psalm 25:4 for your loved ones:

Show _______ your ways; teach them your paths; guide them in your truth.

These are the sorts of easy prayer prompts you’ll find on this monthly prayer calendar (and if you prefer a version for teens or adult children, click here.)

Prayer Calendar for Children

When You Pray for Your Children, Tell Them!

And just as a side note… Let your kids know that you’re praying. Could there be anything more encouraging to a child than to know that their earthly parent is talking to their Heavenly Parent—the One with unlimited power and love—about the details of their lives?

I love what one reader has done, over the years. She jots her kids’ names in her copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then dates them. “I show my kids some of the prayers with their name inserted in them to let them know I am praying,” she told me. “When I go back, I can see how I have prayed through different phases. I can see answered prayers – and so can they.”

Prayer Book for Children

When our children were younger, I’d sometimes write a prayer verse on a little card and tuck it into their lunchbox, or leave it on their pillow. And once a year, I’d trace their hands onto colored paper and write prayer verses on them. I’d post the hands on the fridge as a tangible reminder (to them, and to me) that God was at work in our lives.

Prayer Hands for Children

Now that my kids are older (and their hands are too big to fit on the fridge!), I make bookmarks. And when I find a new verse that speaks to a need they may have, I might send a text to let them know what I’m praying.

Do my kids roll their eyes at this stuff? They used to, sometimes—particularly when they were teenagers and they didn’t think they needed all that much prayer. But now that we’re on the other side of those years (and I say this to encourage anyone who’s slogging through a less-than-fun family phase) my kids actually ask me to pray.

Seriously.

They believe in the power of prayer. Like me, they have discovered that God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11 is true. That’s where He says that His word will not come back empty, but will accomplish the desires and the purposes for which it is sent.

God has wonderful plans for our children’s lives, and His word really does accomplish what He desires. Let’s allow it to breathe new life (and life-shaping power!) into our prayers.

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Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

Note: Plenty of parents have questions about why, or how, we should pray for our children. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that’s a topic we love, and I was honored this week to share some thoughts about prayer over at Club31Women, a site dedicated to encouraging mothers, strengthening marriages, and helping us build healthy homes. Here’s that post…

Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

“I know God loves my kids,” the young father said, “and I trust Him to work in their lives. So I don’t see why I need to do it.”

The man was talking about praying for his children. And I’d heard his logic before:  If God is all-powerful, and if He loves us, then why should we pray? Doesn’t He know what’s best? Won’t He just do it?

I’ve been writing and speaking about prayer for 25 years, and I meet plenty of moms and dads like this guy—folks who love God and want His best for their families, but say that prayer is not a big part of their parenting journey.

“I prayed, but nothing happened,” one mother told me. “I’m not convinced that prayer works.”

“I know God answers prayer,” said another, “but I don’t want to be clogging the lines with my children’s issues when someone with cancer or a marriage breakdown or something really big might be trying to get through.”

Perhaps the hesitation I hear most of all—the thing that keeps parents from praying—is that we don’t really know how. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed,” a precious mom in my own church confided. “It feels awkward and unfamiliar to me. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

I am by no means a prayer expert. Or a parenting one. But having raised—and prayed for—four kids who are now in their young adult years, I am convinced that prayer is the single most powerful thing we can do for our children. Not only that, but it’s what opens the door to freedom from worry and fear in our lives.

Think about it with me for a sec.

There will be times when we don’t really know what’s best for our kids (or when they won’t listen to us, when we do). And even if we do know what we want—healthy friendships, strong character traits, safety and protection—we can feel like our influence, or our ability to provide blessings like these, is woefully limited. And that can leave us feeling anxious, afraid, or ill-equipped.

Which is where prayer comes in. “Don’t worry about anything,” the Bible commands, “but pray about everything. Tell God your needs and thank him for what he has done.”

Pray. About. Everything. (Club31Women)

Pray. About. Everything.

That’s a command that pops up over and over again in the pages of Scripture; clearly, God wants us to talk to Him about stuff! Not only is prayer the power by which His blessings come into our lives, but it’s also a way to acknowledge God as the Source of these gifts. And prayer is a sign that we’re actually in a relationship. (After all, we confide in people we know and love, right? Why should it be any different with God?)

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share a few strategies to equip us to pray, tips that can breathe fresh power and life into our convos with God. For now, though, let’s be honest about how we regard prayer…

 

Want to keep reading? Click here to head over to Club31Women and read the rest of the post.

Want some specific strategies that can breath fresh power and life into your prayers? Stay tuned for Part 2, which will show up next week.

Just want to pray? Alrighty then. Here we go:

Heavenly Father,

When I feel burdened or overwhelmed on behalf of my children, help me exchange fear for trust. Teach me not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything, telling You what I need and thanking You for what You have done. (Philippians 4:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I’ve loved getting to know the team of writers at Club31Women. And since today is actually National Authors Day (a little tidbit I picked up from my in-the-know pal Peyton over at AndOneMarketing), I hope you’ll check out what some of these gals have to offer:

Lisa Jacobson just released 100 Words of Affirmation Your Husband Needs to Hear. (And yes, there is a companion volume you can buy for your man. 😊)

Katie Westenberg blogs about how we can take God at his word and “choose brave” in life, both in the gut-wrenching times and our routine daily decisions. Her book, I Choose Brave, is available now for preorder.

And Sara Hagerty (you’ve met her in this space before, when I told you about The Best Book on the Beach) is all about helping us “scoot a little nearer” to God. Get ready to savor Sara’s exquisite writing – and to encounter God in new ways – when Adore drops in March.

Those are just three of the women I’ve grown to admire; the site also features posts from folks who write about cooking, organizing (yes please!), and understanding some of theology’s thorniest topics. Check ’em out when you can.

And given the whole “Author’s Day” thing (who makes this stuff up?), I was just thinking that we could stop for a second, since it’s November, and GIVE THANKS to the Author of Life.  I don’t know about you, but I’m glad He is still writing my story! 🙂

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A Mantle for Your Marriage (plus a prayer you can print!)

So I was poking around in the Book of Common Prayer the other day (and if you think that sounds uber-holy, maybe don’t. Truth be told, “Organize Office” was on my to-do list. But there’s a copy of the BCP* on my desk, and I got a little sidetracked).

And anyhow. I came upon this sentence:

BCP Marriage Prayer

That’s just one little line in a much longer prayer, but it caught my eye. I had to read it again. And again.

“Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”

Those words from the marriage service–so incredibly rich–speak to the almost inexpressible power of love.

seal conveys security and ownership. It marks something as authentic. Could there be any better imprint than love (with its inherent patience, humility, and unwillingness to keep a record of wrongs) to guard a couple’s heart as they give themselves to each other?

A mantle, in Bible times, was a covering that represented a call to service, a purpose before God. Could there be a more potent mandate for husband and wife than to serve God and one another in love?

And the word crown points toward the promise of eternal life, as marriage reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and his bride–the one where Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that we could wear one of beauty. Could there be a more exquisite portrayal of life-giving love?

See what I mean? This is a fabulous prayer! And if you’re looking for more of the same, I’ve got good news and bad.

The good news is that The Celebration of Marriage is chock full of Scripture-based prayers; I’ve pulled a few favorites and put them on a two-sided card you can print. The front side is the blessing, and the back shows where you can find the roots of these prayers in the Bible.

Printable Marriage Prayer

The bad news is that once you start praying this way (whether it’s for your own marriage or for another union you want God to bless), it can be hard to stop.

Which means that “office organization” might not happen anytime soon….

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Give ____ such wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity…

(Want the rest of the prayer? Click the download–or better yet, get a copy of the BCP and savor it for yourself!)

*And P.S., I didn’t grow up in a church where they used prayer books (or robes, or candles, or really anything except the Bible and Jesus), and I didn’t know what a “BCP” even was. Now I do. And if you ever find yourself in a church where you don’t know all the lingo–words like unction, or epistoler–don’t worry. Just go home and check the phrontistery.

(Which is a real thing.)

(Because you can’t make this stuff up.)

 

 

 

 

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A little thought about friendship (plus a book giveaway!)

There’s an old Swedish proverb that says, “Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.”

I like that. And I think it might be part of what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Romans when he said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Romans 12:15

Sometimes, though, rejoicing with someone (particularly when he or she is celebrating a victory or a joy that we wish we could have) can be hard.

Likewise, mourning (particularly when we don’t know what we should do or say) can tempt us to want to hold back, keeping our distance from pain.

But sharing in others’ delights and their sorrows is a mark of what we might call life-giving friendships, the kind we all long to enjoy. I’ll be talking more about what these sorts of connections look like next week (in part 2 of last week’s post on the merits of aging), but for now, let’s ask God to equip us to come alongside one another in a way that really does increase our joy and divide the burden of grief…

Heavenly Father,

Help us be alert to ways we can honor our friends in their celebrations, and stand with them when they sorrow. May we rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Friendship – that sense of connectedness and belonging – is a blessing we want our kids to enjoy, no matter how old they are. It’s something I wrote about in all of the Praying the Scriptures books. I’m giving away one copy of each title this week, so if you have a friend or two you’d like to share the book with, tag them on my Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook page (@JodieBerndtWrites) and let me know which book they would like!

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Life-Giving Friendships (and three ways to spot ’em)

Robbie and I will be driving home at night and we’ll pass a house that’s all lit up, with cars spilling down the driveway and out into the street.

“Look…” I will say. “Go slow.  They’re having a party…”

“Looks that way,” Robbie will say.

“But…they didn’t invite us,” I will say.

“Jodie,” Robbie will say, looking sideways at me. “We don’t know the people who live in that house.”

“I know,” I will sigh. “But we could know them. And I bet they would like us…”

I may be an extreme (and slightly pathetic) example, but I know I am not alone in my desire to have friends. This longing to belong – this desire for connection – goes back to the beginning of time. Remember what God said when he created Adam?

It is not good for man to be alone.

Roger that. Woman either.

And it’s not just the Creation story that says we need one another; science maintains that we’re actually wired that way. Matthew Lieberman (a leading brainiac in social neuroscience) says, “Love and belonging might seem like a convenience we can do without, but our biology is built to thirst for connection because it is linked to our most basic survival needs.”

(Translation:  We need friends every bit as much as we need water and shelter. And chocolate.)

The thing is, though, not just any connection will do. Two weeks ago, I shared a post about the plusses of aging, one of which is the joy that can come with intergenerational friendships, particularly when they are the “life-giving” kind. Today, I want to explore what that sort of connection looks like. I want to look at the friendship that Mary and Elizabeth shared.

(And just a heads up:  This post is shaping up to be a little longer than normal. So maybe grab a second cup of coffee or click here to get the Bible back-story. And if you don’t have time for a long read today but you value rich friendships, just scroll to the end and jump in with the prayer.)

We know Mary – the mother of Jesus – but her connection with Elizabeth goes back to before her baby was born. Mary was a teenager when the angel appeared and turned her life upside down. Not only would Mary be pregnant, but her baby would be…the Messiah?

Sure, giving birth to the Messiah was something every good Jewish girl dreamed of, but we can imagine what went through Mary’s mind. She wasn’t married. People would talk. She wondered what Joseph would say. What he would do. Mary’s whole life – her reputation, her marriage, her future – hung in the balance. I’m guessing that having an angel to confide in was nice and all that, but what Mary really needed right then was a friend.

And God knew it.

He knows how we think. When we’ve got news we want someone to process it with, someone who will understand. And so God clues Mary in on the fact that Elizabeth is also expecting a surprise. Elizabeth is old (way old), and it makes no sense for her to be pregnant. But she is. Both women – one a virgin, and one long past her childbearing years – are in the same boat.

So Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. And, from a strictly relational standpoint, the story that unfolds is remarkable.

For starters, Elizabeth wasn’t one teeny bit jealous.

Think about that one for a sec. Elizabeth is older, wiser, and married to an uber-godly man who’s devoted his entire life to being a priest. How easy would it have been for Elizabeth to draw some comparisons. To think that maybe being Mom to the Messiah was an honor that she deserved. To wonder whether God had made some sort of cosmic mistake.

But no. There’s not even a hint of “Why wasn’t it me?” Instead, the first thing that comes out of Elizabeth’s mouth when she looks at Mary is affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”

Second, Elizabeth never once hogged the spotlight. Her man had also been visited by an angel, and she was expecting her own miracle baby. Who would have blamed her, had she babbled on and on about that? (“I mean, I hit menopause, like, 50 years ago, Mary!”) But Elizabeth doesn’t talk about herself at all, other than to marvel at the fact that Mary would come to her house. “Why am I so favored,” she says, “that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

That humility – that focus on Mary, rather than her own circumstances – is a marker of life-giving love.

And finally, pretty much everything Elizabeth said fueled Mary’s faith, rather than feeding her fear.

Mary had a long road ahead of her. Here’s how their conversation could have gone down:

Elizabeth could have planted seeds of worry:  Mary, are you sure you’re up for this? You’re so young. Have you talked to Joseph? You know how people will talk.

She could have sown kernels of comparison, making Mary feel insecure:  I don’t know, Mary. Joseph is just a carpenter.  Wouldn’t you think God would want someone like my Zechariah (have I mentioned that he is a priest?) to be a role model for his son?

She could have dug into doubt:  Ok Mary…did the angel really say you would give birth to the Son of God? Let’s go over it again. Tell me EXACTLY what Gabriel said. How was his body language? 

But Elizabeth didn’t ask any of these worry- or doubt-fueling questions. Instead, she recognized God’s purpose for Mary and she validated it. Here’s what she said, word for word:  “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:45

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.” Could there be a more life-giving sentence? I can only imagine how Mary must have clung to those words, especially when she found herself having contractions while riding a donkey and having her very first baby in a stable. Without anyone around to give her a push present or start a Sign Up Genius or anything.

Honestly? Elizabeth is the kind of friend we all want to have. The kind of friend we all want to be.

Because there will be times in our lives when our friend is pregnant (maybe not with the Messiah, but with a new job or a new house or a new baby/grandbaby or anything else that we wish we had), and taking delight in her happiness rails against everything in our self-centered nature.

And there will be conversations when everything in us longs to compare our friend’s pain (or their joy) to what we have been through, and we’ll be oh-so-tempted to jump into her life and say “Look at me!”

And of course there will be circumstances that look more than a little bit iffy. Uncomfortable. Scary, even. Situations where it would be easy to come alongside our friend and sow seeds of worry or doubt.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s ask God to shape us into life-giving people, people whose words are marked by encouragement, humility, and a desire to validate and affirm God’s purposes in each others’ lives.

Let’s speak life to our friends.

Heavenly Father,

May our words bring life. May we be people who truly believe that your promises – in our lives, and in the lives of the people we love – will indeed be accomplished. (Proverbs 18:21, Luke 1:45)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Mary and Elizabeth’s connection feels especially precious on the heels of this week’s Garden Club pansy sale, where the friendships are even more vibrant than the flowers. And no (for those of you who have been around this blog for while), I did NOT steal any pansies this year…

pansy sale 2019

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Free “Must Have” on the Back-to-School List!

So I saw where today’s parents are spending, on average, nearly $700 per child on back-to-school shopping. Which is lot of notebooks and glue sticks. And when you factor in the mini-fridge or whatever else a college kid needs (I’m looking at you, Bed, Bath & Beyond Campus Checklist), that number climbs even higher.

Happily, there’s at least one must-have item that doesn’t cost anything. And honestly? Every kid needs it, whether they’re headed for kindergarten or college.

Robbie First Day of Kindergarten

I’m talking about back-to-school prayer.

Several years ago, I wrote about the ice-cream-and-prayer parties we used to host at the end of the summer. You can read that post here, but if you just want a few good prompts to help kick off the year (or to tuck in the lunchbox, maybe?), click here to download 12 of my favorites. This collection covers everything from listening to instruction…to having a teachable spirit…to making the most of every opportunity!

IMG_7041

Happy praying…and as you send your crew out the door this year, may the Lord watch over their coming and going, both now and forevermore! (Psalm 121:8)

❤️

And P.S. yes, I did make Robbie give a flower to his teacher. 🙂

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I’m nicer when I like my outfit (especially when my daughter picks it out)

I’m nicer when I like my outfit.

I'm nicer when I like my outfit

It’s true. I am. Trouble is, I’m a terrible shopper.

Our daughter Virginia, on the other hand, loves the thrill of the hunt. She knows what works (and what doesn’t), and she’s a firm believer that clothes really do “make the man.” Once, in middle school, Virginia bought a shirt from J. Crew for her boyfriend. Never mind that she did not yet actually have a boyfriend. “I want to date a guy,” she explained, “who would look good in this shirt.”

Anyhow, when Virginia heard that I needed a new pair of jeans (see last week’s post), she jumped in like a first responder and all but ambulanced me to Saks. “They are having a huge summer sale,” she said. “We need to go now!”

I’ll spare you the most painful details, but picture me (or maybe don’t) in a department store dressing room while my girl popped in and out, bearing armloads of clothing that she thought would suit me. “You could speak in this,” she said, brandishing an army-green dress that looked like it could be worn on safari. “And this would be a great going-out outfit!”

I looked at the wide orange pants and teensy silk top Virginia was holding. “Going out?” I echoed. “You mean, like, to the grocery store?”

“Mom!” she laughed – before handing over her bounty and heading back out into the wild.

I found myself alone in the room with five different white tops (Solomon says you can never have too much white), and I couldn’t help it. My mind started to wander. I thought back to when I first realized that Virginia (who was six at the time) knew more than I did about clothes.

In my defense, both Fraulein Maria and Scarlett O’Hara had done it before. I thought my plan to repurpose the curtain that hung in our kitchen – a valance I’d sewn out of fancy French fabric – was inspired. I ran some elastic through the curtain rod hole, sewed up the side, and popped the thing over Virginia’s head.

“What is this?” she inquired, looking dubiously at the green velvet pompoms that encircled her hem.

“It’s…a skirtain!” I said, more than a little bit pleased with myself. “It’s French!”

Virginia is nothing if not confident, and as she headed off to school I told myself that if anyone could pull off The Skirtain, it would be her. Looking back, though, I’m not sure even Scarlett, with her famed 17-inch waist, could have managed that thing. Regardless, it was the last time Virginia let me influence her outfit choices. And by the time she hit the fifth grade, she was questioning mine:

“You’re going out to the bus stop…like that?

(At 7:00 a.m.)

Her scrutiny rankled. Her clothing obsession seemed out of place. And finally, after the J. Crew incident (in which I ridiculed my daughter for buying a shirt for a fictitious boyfriend and she hotly corrected me in the store, saying that he was not fictitious but future), I decided to take my complaint up with God.

“God,” I said, “What is wrong with Virginia? How can she be so shallow? Who cares whether a dress falls above or below the knee level; doesn’t she realize that there are starving people in Africa who would be grateful for either hemline?”

“I made Virginia that way,” God replied. “She is my masterpiece. Her love for clothing and her artistic eye are gifts she will use.”

I knew God was quoting himself, drawing on Ephesians 2:10, but I was not satisfied. “But all that focus on appearance,” I pressed. “It just doesn’t seem very…Christian.”

(Seriously. I was telling God what I thought a Christian looked like.)

It seems funny – or maybe embarrassing – now, but it wasn’t, back then. God was speaking to my spirit, but he might as well have been talking out loud. And he wasn’t laughing.

“Do not mock your daughter,” I sensed him say. “Do not wish she were different. I gave her this gift, and it is one she will use to serve others.”

A tap on the dressing room door brought me back to the present. It was Virginia, with several pairs of good-looking jeans in my size. That were 70% off.

And as I stood there in White Shirt #4, it hit me:  Virginia – the daughter I’d once tried to change – was literally living out 1 Peter 4:10 in the middle of Saks:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

And I – the mom who had once asked God to “fix her” – was the one being blessed.

Use whatever gift you have received, 1 Peter 4:10

All of which is to say…

God’s grace really does show up in “various forms.”

And instead of questioning the way that God wired our kids (or wondering why on earth they would want to do this or that), maybe a better plan is just to release them. To surrender their lives fully to God, knowing that – as Philippians 2:13 so powerfully reminds us – it’s not up to us to change or shape other people.

God’s plans for our children might not look just like ours. Sure, as parents, we want to teach our kids right from wrong (and pray that they’ll pursue the former!), but more often than not, the things I worry about in my children’s lives are actually reflections of my own need for control, or my own desire to look good, based on the choices they make. And when I cling too tightly to my vision for what my children should do or become (instead of prayerfully releasing them into the Lord’s tender care), I risk missing out on God’s plan for their lives – his infinitely more wonderful plan.

In her book, Prayer PortionsSylvia Gunter offers a declaration of release that we can pray over our children, our spouses, or anyone whose life might be tied closely to ours. Read it here, or join me in praying this simple prayer for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating _______ as your masterpiece, and for planning good things for them long ago. Please work in ______, giving them the desire and the power to do what pleases you. (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13, NLT)

❤️

P.S. I know this blog is already too long (and I promise not to post again for awhile!), but if you want more info on how to ask God to shape your children and use their gifts, check out chapters 3 (Praying for Your Child’s Gifts) and 17 (Praying for Your Child’s Purpose in Life) in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenHere are a few of the prayers that you’ll find:

And if you got stuck back there in the dressing room and you just want to know what I bought, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I passed on the big orange pants, I got two pairs of the jeans, and I actually did come home with the safari-style “speaking” dress.

Because, to finish the Mark Twain quote referenced above, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do these pants make me look fat?

I broke up with three pairs of perfectly good jeans recently, pants whose only offense was that they’d somehow gotten too small.

“It’s not you,” I sighed, gazing wistfully toward the giveaway pile (and wishing I could just blame the dryer). “It’s me.”

I don’t know when, exactly, everything in my closet started to shrink; maybe the heat from all the candles on my last birthday cake sparked some sort of climate change in our house? I do know, however, that I have never been so grateful for online tools like Biblehub.com, where you can look up Bible verses different translations.

Verses like Isaiah 61:3.

That’s the one where God promises to give us beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, and something called a “garment of praise” instead of despair. It’s an awesome verse in the NIV, but it gets even better in the good old King James. That’s where God says the garment of praise is for the “spirit of heaviness.”

Waaaait a minute. There’s a spirit of heaviness? Now you tell me…

garment of praise

 

Okay, okay. You know I’m kidding.

You have to admit, though. Isaiah 61:3 is a pretty great verse. Because whatever we’re carrying–be it a spiritual or a physical weight–God says he can lift it.

Redeem it.

Swap it out.

God promises to take the ashes of our dreams, the brokenness of our hearts, the shame of our past…and completely remake us. The last part of verse 3 says that we’ll be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

(Great oaks??? My mother once told me that I should be glad I had legs built like tree trunks, since it meant that I’d be able to stand for long periods of time. Maybe I should start claiming Isaiah 61:3 as my “life verse” and just own it?)

Anyhow.

While I was in the dressing room last week, trying to find a new pair of jeans (which is actually Part 2 of this post, and one I’ll hope you’ll read next week if you’ve ever questioned–or been frustrated by–the way that God wired your kids), I began to think about how life might be different if I woke up every day and, instead of thinking about actual clothing, I put on a garment of praise. What would happen if I took time to consciously consider God’s goodness, his power, and his love?

For starters, praise would take my focus off of the to-do lists of the day and make me aware of God’s presence (which is, as Psalm 16:11 reminds us, the Very Place where we find “fullness of joy”).

And then, as I meditated on God’s attributes–he’s our Provider, Protector, Redeemer, Counselor, Deliverer, Comforter, Friend–the problems and needs that clamored for space in my heart would start shrinking in size. It would work like what my friend Jennifer Kennedy Dean called “spiritual chemotherapy,” taking things like worry and fear–as well as those pesky, self-absorbed thoughts (“Do these pants make me look fat?”)–and targeting them for destruction.

That sounded like a win.

There was only one hitch.

What if I didn’t feel like adoring God, or thanking him, when I woke up? What if my first thought came with a sharp pain (or a dull ache) of remembrance, like in the weeks and months of waking up after God chose not to heal my father’s brain cancer? What if I questioned God’s goodness, or his wisdom, sometimes?

What then?

The answer, I think, it that it’s okay. God can handle our doubts and our questions. And if you take another look at Isaiah 61 (which is where the prophet tells us what the Messiah will do), the thing that stands out is that it’s not up to us. Jesus is the one who brings the comfort, the beauty, the joy. He’s the one who gives us the garment of praise. All we have to do is receive it!

I love how Isaiah wraps up the transformation, just a few verses later:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…

“I delight greatly in the Lord.”

Maybe just read that one out loud. It’s such a beautiful phrase…one we could look forward to wearing.

And on those days when our first thought is not one of delight–when our souls don’t readily rejoice in the Lord–let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead, let’s ask God for help. Let’s ask him to do the thing he does best:  Get us dressed in garments that look and feel really good.

Heavenly Father,

Clothe me with beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I can’t leave this post without pointing you toward two of my favorite “praise” resources.

The first is on Instagram. Type #adorationexplained into the search bar. You’ll meet Sara Hagerty (@sarahagertywrites), who tackles some of the thorniest questions we have when it comes to thanksgiving and praise, questions about the real struggles we face. “Adoration,” she says, “isn’t that we set aside our real interior life. It’s that we bring that to God. We bring our real honesty to God and we say, ‘Show up.'”

And the second help is this little devotional book by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, which is where I found that line about spiritual chemotherapy.

It’s called SEEK: 28 Days to Extraordinary Prayer. Jennifer went home to heaven about six weeks ago, and I’ve spent much of this summer moving between grief and gratitude as I re-read her incredible work. I know heaven is rejoicing, but golly. Jennifer:  We’re gonna miss you down here. ❤️

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Build an altar this summer. And add some ice cream.

Our son Robbie graduated from college in May.

Watching him walk down U.Va.’s storied Lawn, my mind flashed back 20 years to my brother David’s graduation (also from Virginia):

That’s David, perched on somebody’s shoulders. I guess he was trying to spot our folks in the crowd, because the moment he saw them, he scrambled down, threaded his way through the procession, and planted a kiss on Dad’s cheek in a very public display of gratitude and affection!

A few days later I received a letter from my father describing David’s impromptu embrace and telling me how much it had meant. Dad went on to recount about a dozen similar memories and blessings from his children’s growing-up years, pointing out that they were all “a testimony of God’s tender mercies, one after another after another, being bestowed upon our family.”

My father’s note made an impression on me, so much so that I actually wrote about it – and quoted him – in the last chapter of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. “God is so faithful,” he said, “and we must remember to stop occasionally and build ‘an altar of thanksgiving’ before we hurry on our way.”

Altar of thanksgiving

I knew what Dad meant. The Bible is brimming with stories of altars built by those who wanted a lasting memorial of who God was and what he had done. Noah built an altar after the great flood; Jacob erected one after God changed his name; Moses put one up after God gave the Israelites an incredible  victory over a powerful foe. In each of these instances—and plenty more—the altar signified the time and place where God showed up and proved his faithfulness, his power, and his love.

I don’t know about you, but I am not nearly as good at building altars as I am at building to-do lists (even in my prayer journal), thinking of all the things I want God to accomplish in my life and in the lives of the people I love. Rather than thanking God for “his tender mercies, one after another,” I often find myself consumed with present concerns, unmet desires, and problems that have yet to be solved.

Which is where summertime can bring some welcome relief.

Even though our family is long past the annual “School’s Out!” shout on the calendar, the season still heralds a slower pace, one that offers an opportunity for rest and reflection. For meditating on God’s goodness. For altar-building.

So what does an altar of thanksgiving look like?

In Bible times, an altar was often a pile of stones set up by someone so that they (and their children, some who were yet to be born) would have a visible reminder of God’s provision and his faithfulness. I actually have a couple of stones – and one or two seashells – on which I’ve written dates and a few words or a Bible verse that speak to what God has done.

More often, though, my “altar” is simply a page or two in my journal, one where I revisit prayers (which sometimes look more like scrawls) from the previous months and thank God for how he has moved, often in ways I did not expect. With the perspective of time, I can see how God has expanded my vision, stretched my faith, and said no to some of my longings so as to make room for his.

(I realize that this might sound sort of heady. But don’t get any ideas. My journal is not fancy. It’s got arrows and abbreviations and chicken-scratch writing that I sometimes struggle to read. But I tell myself that the Bible altars were probably no architectural masterpieces either. I imagine that, to someone who did not know their meaning, they mostly just looked like…rocks.)

Anyhow.

If the idea of building an altar is a new one for you, I want to encourage you (even as I am prompting myself) to try it this summer. Not only is altar-building  an exercise in gratitude, it’s also one of obedience:  “Tell God your needs,” the Bible says, “and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.”

Write a few words on a rock. Or in a prayer journal. Or, if you’ve got children at home, consider building a basket-shaped altar. Encourage your kids to be alert to the ways they see God at work in their lives, and to note those observations on a slip of paper (chicken scratch is approved!) and slip it into the basket. Then, before school starts again in the fall, set aside an evening to read what’s in the basket together.

And…maybe add ice cream sundaes.

Because trust me. Ice cream, served up with a side of thanksgiving, can be a very tangible reminder of God’s love. 😊

ice cream

Heavenly Father,

Help us never forget the things our eyes have seen you do; do not let them fade from our hearts. Equip us to teach your faithfulness to our children, and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Amen

 

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For all the Dads who have ever hung a mooring ball off their roof…

Dad is such a doofus.

At least that what today’s advertisers and sit-com producers (who often portray fathers as being oblivious, emotionally disconnected, or just plain incompetent) would have us believe. Even the good guys–the TV Dads whose hearts are in the right place–are almost always making some sort of mess that Mom has to come in and clean up.

Honestly though? The real-life fathers I know are nothing like that. The fathers I know are smart. Strong. Patient. And kind.

And in general, they are very resourceful.

Just this week, for example, a friend invited me to survey her husband’s handiwork. After discovering a leak in their roof, this dad had stepped in, installing a stop-gap measure until the pros could get there. The pitch was both slippery and steep, but this guy had managed to hang an industrial-size tarp over half of their house, weighting it down with a cooler (empty), a bottle of ginger ale (full), and a mooring ball.

“All the tarp anchors are plastic!” he beamed. “I didn’t want anything to break if something went wrong.”

(Because what could possibly go wrong?)

Looking up at the mooring ball dangling down from the eaves, I was reminded of the time Robbie fixed our broken shower head–temporarily–with duct tape and our cheese grater. I love that man.

So to all of the can-do fathers out there, can I just say THANK YOU? You make life so much more interesting than it would otherwise be.

And for all of those times you’ve protected and provided, listened and loved, been the cheerleader as well as the coach…(as well as those times when you’ve blown it–and trust me, we moms have been there)…you should know how God feels towards you.

Here’s how the Bible puts it:

God will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

That’s Hebrews 6:10. And it’s true; God sees all the work and the love you pour into your people–and he won’t forget it. And neither will we.

(Even if we sometimes forget to say thank you.)

Happy Father’s day. You are loved.

💙

Heavenly Father,

Show your love to our husbands and fathers, even as they have loved us.

Help them stand firm, letting nothing move them. Equip them to give themselves fully to the work that you’ve called them to do, knowing that their labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Amen.

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MOPS (and that time when our house caught on fire)

I love to speak to all sorts of groups, but MOPS women have a special place in my heart.

These gals–Mothers of Preschoolers–don’t ask for much. Give them a bagel, a smile, and two hours of child care and they’re happy. Thrilled, actually. The fact that they get to enjoy some adult conversation is just bonus material. (And honestly? I think some of these precious women would be okay if the speaker just turned down the lights and said they could nap.)

As an audience, they are delightful.

And as moms, they are committed. And strong. And hungry to learn. They get together not just for the company (or even the refreshments, which are way above par for church-based cuisine), but because they genuinely desire God’s best for their families, and they want to know what that looks like in real life.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but as an older mom who watched her youngest child graduate from college last weekend…

(and yes, that IS Robbie’s U.Va. graduation gown that he packed his stuff in), I felt privileged to share a few insights with our local MOPS group this week.

I told the young moms about the time that our house caught on fire.

We were in the midst of yet another remodel, and Robbie and Virginia (who were just one and two then) had gone down for their naps. The older two girls were off playing with friends, the construction crew was working outside, and our house was utterly, beautifully quiet.

Until the foreman started hollering at me, up the stairs, telling me that I had to “get them babies up!” because the house was “on FIRE!”

I stood there, staring down at the man. And wishing that he would stop yelling. Or at the very least, lower his voice.

(If you’re a mother, you get it. My dilemma was real. I mean, the babies had just nodded off…)

“Um…how bad is the fire?” I finally whispered. “Like, can you see actual flames?”

Not one of my finer mom moments, I know. But we’re all still alive, which is the main thing. And the other main thing is that this story is the perfect tie-in to Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the Bible guy who rebuilt Jerusalem after the Babylonians demolished it. He faced opposition (some powerful people did not want his plan to succeed, and they kept up a barrage of abuse), but one of his main problems was simply the scope of the job. The city’s walls had been broken, its gates burned, and there was so much debris that the Jews (almost none of whom were professional builders) reached the point where they were ready to throw in the towel.  “The strength of the laborers is giving out,” they told Nehemiah, “and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.

Can anybody relate?

Weariness can be a killer–even if the job is something we care deeply about. Fatigue can sap our strength and cloud our judgment, making us think and do crazy things. Like wanting to give up on a key building project. Or letting babies sleep through a fire.

Nehemiah understood all of this. He knew what exhaustion could do–particularly when you’re already feeling attacked. And so he made a plan. You can read the fine print here if you want, but the gist is that he posted people together so that they could strengthen each other, and he made sure that his workers had weapons.

Which is exactly what we do when we pray with our friends, and when we use Scripture to ward off attacks.

Nehemiah stationed whole families together, positioning them along the most vulnerable and exposed spots on the wall. We do the same thing when we come together to pray. We spot a gap in the wall–a place where a child or a friend might be at risk–and we get to work. And when one of us gets too weary or discouraged to lift up our hands (which can happen sometimes, in the trenches), others step in. We stand firm, knowing that our labor is not in vain.

And, like Nehemiah’s workers, we rely on our sword. Hebrews 4:12 says our sword is the Bible, and that we can use it to separate the lies from the truth. Which, for a weary young (or old!) mother, can be a game-changer.

We may tell ourselves, for instance, that we are not up to the job, that we stink at the whole parenting thing. But God says that we are his masterpiece, and that motherhood is a calling that he has both equipped and prepared us to do.

We think that we’ve blown it, that we’ve ruined our kids by some awful thing that we said or we did. But God says that he’s our Redeemer, and he promises to work in all things–the good and the bad–for our good when we love him.

You get the idea. Whether we’re building a city or a family, we can’t go it alone. We need one another. We need prayer. And we need the wisdom of Scripture.

There is so much more we could say (and golly, the MOPS moms got an earful this week!), but I’ll just wrap up with this:

If you’re a young mom (or you know someone who is), consider checking out MOPS. There’s no pressure to do anything but show up–and when you’ve got little people that you want to love really well, the friendships you forge at the meetings can become your tether to hope.

And speaking of loving our littles, I did, in fact, wake my babies that day. The firetruck came–the whole neighborhood came–and everyone (even the firemen) wound up eating popsicles. It was a good day, all around.

Except that I went to bed that night very tired.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Mother’s Day from a New Mom

You need to know, right off the bat, that I am not someone who thinks that “Dogs are people, too.” I realize that I’ve probably offended half of you in saying that, but I can’t help that. The way I see it, dogs are dogs.

That being said, there are some definite similarities between humans and dogs. And ever since Minneapolis Bennett joined our family a few weeks ago, I’ve been having more than a few New Mom Feels. I don’t know which is harder, raising a baby or raising a puppy.

So far, I think it’s a tie.

Babies can’t feed themselves, right? Well neither could Minnie, at first. Thank goodness for four inches of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. “Every dog,” as Shakespeare reminds us (page 137), “will have its day.”

And the potty training thing? Getting to our yard requires a descent of five steps, and Minnie wasn’t having it. When I marveled at her reluctance, Robbie put things in perspective: “Asking her to go down those steps is like asking you to jump off a five-story building.”

Alrighty then.

Honestly though? The thing that made me feel most like a new mom happened just this past week, when I decided that Minnie should learn how to walk.

As in, on a leash.

As in, with me.

I did what any good parent might do. I asked Google.

I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that whichever dog-brain wrote that Step One in the teaching process is to “drop your end of the leash on the ground” needs to maybe be a little more clear on Step Two.

And all I could think, as I stood there staring at my dog-child while she stared back at me–chewing away at the tether and clearly not eager to stay anywhere close to my feet–was that God knew exactly how I felt.

Seriously.

God knows how all parents feel–especially when communication breaks down with our kids, or when they choose to walk down a path that we know is not good. I love how candid God is in Hosea 11, as he reveals his own parenting struggles:

“When Israel was a child,” God says, “I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”

(Can anybody relate?)

And then God goes on, talking about how he taught his children to walk: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.”

Here again, I’ll spare you the details, (you can read em here if you want), but the nutshell version is that it did not go well. Israel wanted no part of God’s parenting. They pushed all of his buttons, in the worst kind of ways.

(I’ll ask it again:  Can anybody relate?)

And yet.

And yet God, even in his frustration, found his wrath trumped by compassion. He couldn’t help himself. He roared–not in anger, but with the fiercest of love–and called his wayward ones home.

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Mother’s Day.

If you find yourself raising a child who wants to go their own way–whether it’s a toddler whose potty training is not going much better than Minnie’s, a teen whose ears seem deaf to your voice, or an adult who has walked away from their faith (and maybe your family in the process), know this:

We’ve all been there.

“We all,” the Bible says, “have gone astray–each of us to his own way.” And the second part of that verse tells us that God–out of love–put our sin squarely on Jesus. Compassion trumped wrath, once again.

So here’s the good Mother’s Day news, for moms (and dads) in the parenting trenches: Just like God could not help but pursue Israel, so he cannot help but go after our kids. And our children, as I’ve said over and over again in this space, are never out of God’s reach.

Hang in there, Sweet Momma. You are loved. And so are your kids.

With the fiercest, and sweetest, of loves.

❤️

Oh, and one more thing. Or maybe three.

First, summer is here, and the blog’s hitting vacation mode. I’ll still write, but maybe not every week. (I figure we can all use the break.) 😉

Second, if you haven’t gotten Mom a card yet, there’s still time. What you write doesn’t have to be fancy or long; feel free to borrow from this stellar example, created by my friend Elizabeth’s six-year-old son:

 

“Joy comes in the morning. Go Hoos Go.” Clearly, that boy knows his Bible. And his basketball.

And finally, you all know how much I appreciate Eugene Peterson, and when I was re-reading Hosea 11, I decided to check it out in The Message. And I laughed out loud.

Because this is me, yesterday, giving up on Minnie’s walking lessons:

And this is Eugene, rendering Israel’s response to God’s love:

And this is Minnie, letting us know just how she feels about the whole “I’m with you” thing:

😂

Happy Mother’s Day!

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The Path of Life

“You have made known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

That’s Psalm 16:11, and it’s what someone put on a wedding gift for my friend Lisa Robertson and her husband Tim, some 40 years ago. Back then, the verse spawned several questions in Lisa’s mind:  Is there a path God has for me? Can I find it? Will I take it?

Is this the next step?

Most folks, I imagine, have had similar thoughts. Because life is full of pathways–hard ones, surprising ones, joyful ones–and we can find ourselves wondering which paths are from God, or which steps we should take. Happily for us, those are some of the very questions Lisa tackles in her new book, The Path of Life, which releases this week!

 

I’ve known Lisa for the better part of four decades. She’s Pollyanna to my Eeyore; she always expects (and sees) the best in people and things, while I mumble about what could be done or made better. But there’s no sugar-coating in this book; instead, Lisa is incredibly candid about the paths she’s been on: The Difficult Path (when her younger sister was killed); the Parenting Path (and how hard it was to watch her son move 3,000 miles away); the Path of Change (when it looked like her church–the place where she’d raised her five children–was coming apart at the seams, and all she could do was look at God and say, “I hate this! I don’t want to be here!”)

Don’t get me wrong. This book isn’t one of those tragic memoirs where you use up a whole box of Kleenex before you hit chapter three. Quite the contrary! The way Lisa processes life’s painful moments helps point us to God, revealing His path–even when His presence seems hidden.

Which is exactly what happened in Lisa’s marriage one day. Here’s how she tells it…

Early in our marriage, I learned how easy it was for me to allow my fickle feelings to determine how I reacted to Tim. One fall afternoon, we had an argument, and in my mature way, I decided to “punish” Tim by giving him the silent treatment. All Sunday afternoon, I didn’t say a word to him. I huffed and puffed, silent on the outside but boiling on the inside.

My big mistake was that this happened during football season, and Tim was so engrossed in his beloved Redskins that he wasn’t aware of my silence. After several hours, my feelings were hurt and I didn’t think Tim cared, but the reality was that he didn’t even know.

Can’t you just picture it? You’ve got the wife all hot and bothered, banging pots and pans in the kitchen, while the husband (who literally has no idea that he’s in the doghouse!) is sitting there, eating chips and wondering what he did to merit a whole afternoon of uninterrupted football. Anybody else’s marriage been there??

I’ll let you read Lisa’s story for yourself, but the punchline is that she learned a lot about the dangers of giving free rein to her feelings that day. “Allowing our emotions to have too much influence in our lives,” she writes, “can lead us to believe things that are not true.”

Roger that.

And Roger this, as Lisa shares what she’s learned about the Psalm 16 promise of joy:

Rather than manufacturing the right feelings, if we want to truly be filled with joy in God’s presence, we need to know that this joy is a gift from God, plain and simple. There’s nothing we can do or strive toward; we don’t achieve fullness of joy, but as a gift we receive it…

Truthfully, it might be easier for me to work for joy than to just receive it, regardless of my circumstances. But thankfully, no matter what our circumstances may be, when we choose to open our eyes and see God’s presence all around us, at every moment, the gift of His fullness of joy is not far behind.

Good words for this Eeyore to remember. Thank you, Lisa.

❤️

The Path of Life releases on May 8; preorder on Amazon now to get your copy by Mother’s Day. And if you’d like to win a free copy, hop on over to my Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook page (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment or tag a friend who reminds you of Lisa–someone who just sort of oozes “fullness of joy.” We’ll pick three winners on Monday!

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How Jesus might get to the Final Four

When our children were in preschool, the school nurse used to push a snack cart (loaded with treats that measured up to her strict nutritional standards) from classroom to classroom each morning. She genuinely loved the kids and her job, so I was surprised to see her storming down the hall one day, her face flushed with indignation.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“One of the children just called me her servant!” she exploded. “I didn’t know how to respond!”

I felt my eyes light up as I burst into laughter. “A servant!” I exclaimed “I can’t think of a higher compliment!”

Bewildered, the nurse stared at me for a long moment before moving on down the hall, again at a loss for words. She may have thought I was nuts, but at least she didn’t say so.

_________________________________________________

That’s how I started the chapter called “Praying for a Servant’s Heart” in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenAnd I couldn’t help but think back to that story this week–particularly the nurse’s confusion–when I read this article about the “Five Pillars” on which Coach Tony Bennett has built U.Va.’s basketball program.

Servanthood is one of Coach Bennett’s biggies, along with Passion, Unity, Thankfulness and Humility. And it’s easy to see why most of these attributes matter–and not just on the basketball court.

We cannot imagine a business succeeding without a passionate buy-in from its leadership. And  as any team member (or parent!) will tell you, unity is a good and pleasant thing, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Gratitude–whether toward other people or God–helps us focus on life’s bigger picture. And in addition to being an incredibly attractive character trait, humility equips us to withstand setbacks (cough-UMBC-cough) with strength and grace.

But…servanthood?

Nobody talks about servanthood all that much anymore. It seems an odd duck in a world where everyone’s goal seems to be to get to the top. Whether it’s in the NCAA tourney, a business venture, or the grocery store checkout line, we all want to be in control. We want to be first. We want to be great. And in a culture that rarely notices or rewards an others-centered outlook, you have to wonder whether cultivating a servant’s heart is all that important.

Coach Bennett evidently thinks so. And, as it turns out, so does Jesus. In fact, were He to map out the road to the Final Four, it might look something like this:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That’s Mark 10:43-45. And trust me:  In bringing these verses into a basketball convo, I’m not being flippant. I love March Madness, but I love Jesus even more. And as we move toward Easter, I want my life to reflect His.

I want to pray for–and cultivate–a heart that bends toward others.

If you want that too–for yourself, or your kids–you’ll find a collection of scripture-based prayer prompts in the Children book, as well as in the Teens version. I’d go back and copy them for you right now but it’s Thursday night and U.Va. is about to tip-off against Oregon, and I really feel like they need me.

So I’ll leave you with just four of my favorites (along with some 💥bonus info 💥 below), knowing that–win or lose–Tony’s guys have got their Pillars in place.

Heavenly Father…

Let ______ do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility may ______ value others above themselves, not looking to their own interests by to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 

Motivate ______ to serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving you, Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)

Open ______’s ears to the cry of the poor so that they won’t be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13 NLT)

May _______ serve others in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Amen

(photo credits Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)

Bonus Material:

I’m traveling and taking next week off from the blog, so here’s a little P.S. to be thinking about:

The Philippians passage we prayed above goes on to tell us that our mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, as he voluntarily made Himself nothing and took on a servant’s nature. So if you’re trying to instill a heart for service in your children (or, um, recognize it in your spouse), maybe keep the focus on attitude over accomplishment.

Like, if you happen to have daughters named Hillary and Annesley and they unload the dishwasher for you without being asked, and then you realize that all of your cupboards have dirty dishes in them, don’t freak out. Affirm your little helpers and thank God for answering your prayers.

❤️

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You Can Use My Name

So this is officially “Celebrate Your Name” week.

I know this because my hip young friend, Peyton, runs an award-winning marketing firm, and she published a content calendar on her website this week. It’s chock full of things we might not otherwise know.

For instance, if you missed out on “World Compliment Day” on March 1, you can still take advantage of “National Napping Day” next Tuesday. And don’t tell my husband (because he’s currently looking at litters online), but March 23 is “National Puppy Day” (which probably means that my coffee table is about to get chewed).

Anyhow.

When I downloaded Peyton’s calendar and saw the bit about celebrating our names, I thought to myself: That’s kind of freaky. In a freaky good kind of way. Because as timing would have it, I have been thinking a whole lot this week about names. Well, one name, anyway.

I have been thinking about the name Jesus–and, in particular, how we use it in prayer.

You know the drill: We ask God for something, or say grace over a meal, and then (sometimes without even thinking) we tack on a quick “…in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Having spent most of 2019 in the Gospel of John, I think I know where this practice comes from. Over and over again, Jesus tells us to ask in his name:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  (John 14:13-14)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

Reading verses like these back-to-back, you get the idea that He mean it. Jesus intends for us to know His name–and to use it.

Which, for me, raises a couple of questions.

I know how I’d feel if I gave somebody the use of my name–like, if I recommended someone for a job, or I wanted to make an introduction. I’d want that person to speak and behave honorably (and not to do anything that might, by virtue of my endorsement, reflect badly on me!). Did Jesus, I wondered, ever have that kind of concern?

I wanted to know more about how this “you can use my name” thing really works, and I figured Andrew Murray would have something to say. I picked up my copy of With Christ in the School of Prayer (which is getting more dog-eared by the day) and sure enough:  He has a whole chapter on this very topic.

Murray contends that when we pray in Christ’s name, we are actually praying in his nature–which is love. Prayers “in the name of Jesus” presuppose that our interests are aligned with God’s. “No one,” Murray says, “would give another free use of his name without first being assured that his honor and interests were as safe with that other person as with himself.”

Not only that, but the power that our prayers carry also depends on our relationship to the Lord. God looks not just to our lips, but also to our lives to see what His name is to us. And as we “walk in the name of the Lord our God” (Micah 4:5), we can effectively pray in the name of the Lord our God–with full confidence that, as Jesus promised, we will receive whatever we ask.

And finally (and this goes to my question about the potential for misusing Christ’s name), Murray says that the phrase “in my name” has its own built-in safeguard. When we bear the name “Christian”–living and acting and praying as children of God–the power that’s in the name works. When we try to live (and pray) out from under that power, it doesn’t.

Okay. That’s enough Deep Thought for one day. Let’s download our content calendars, thank God for giving us a Name we can celebrate, and look forward to napping next week!

😊

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us the privilege of bearing your name when we call ourselves Christians. Please show us what your name really means, and how we can use it in prayer, so that You will be glorified in our midst. (John 14:13-14)

Amen

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Just a quick thought and a blessing

One of the best things about being a parent is getting to watch your children grow up.

That’s also one of the hardest things, particularly when the paths our kids choose don’t line up with our vision for what “their happiness” is supposed to look like, or when we aren’t really sure what God’s best plan is for their lives. It can be easy, during those iffy or uncertain times, to be tempted to give in to fear, or to worry because we aren’t really sure what how to pray.

But let’s don’t. Instead, let’s take back that ground with a blessing, releasing our ideas and agendas to God and trusting Him to accomplish his plans in the lives of the people we love.

And if you’re in a spot where maybe you don’t love a particular choice your child makes, know this: A blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, it’s simply a way of acknowledging God’s sovereignty in our children’s lives and inviting him to shepherd their future.

Just a thought. And if you like it, you’ll find a collection of well-loved “scripture blessings” in the Adult Children book.

For now, though, here’s our family’s favorite:

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them; make Your face shine on  ______ and be gracious to them.

Turn Your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen

 

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She Has His Smile: The Power of Being an Image Bearer

I’ve been missing my father this week. His birthday was February 18th; Dad would have been 80 this year.

People used to say that we favored each other. They said I had my dad’s smile (which made me happy), as well as his nose (which made me less so)…

Three years ago, I wrote a post about some of the good gifts Dad gave me (the best being an introduction to Jesus), and I shared a bit about his cancer journey. And this year, as I reflect on his legacy, I’ve been thinking of how many things—physical attributes, as well as interests and skills—fathers pass down to their kids.

A classical pianist may teach his children to love Mozart and Bach. A businessman may want to raise up a successor. An athletic dad may urge his kids to play sports.

(Or try to, anyway. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that Dad’s passion for tennis didn’t exactly translate into a skill-set for me.)

For better or for worse, children are image bearers–a connection that reflects our relationship to our Heavenly Father, I think. Remember what God said, back when He was creating the world? “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

That’s Genesis 1:26. And it comes right before God outlines our destiny. In a nutshell, our original job description was to reproduce, fill the earth, and basically take responsibility to love and care for God’s entire creation.

Sounds like a tall order, right? (Especially after that whoopsie, early on, in the Garden.)

It is a big job. And it would literally be mission impossible, except for two things.

The first is the power of redemption. What sin destroyed, God’s grace restored.  Thanks to the cross, we are back in the destiny saddle.

And the second is the power of prayer. To quote Andrew Murray (my current “dead author” obsession), prayer is “the power through which blessing can come to others.”

Put another way, prayer is the conduit through which God’s provision can flow.

It is the number one way we can love and care for our world.

It is–and buckle up, Murray fans, cuz this is one of his best–“proof of man’s godlikeness, the vehicle of his communication with the Father, and the power that is allowed to hold the Hand that holds the destinies of the universe.”

(It’s okay. I’ll wait while you read that one again. I had to.)

Because here’s the thing:  God could have chosen to work around us, or even in spite of us, but he didn’t. He chose to work in us, and through us, to bless other people. God chose us–us!–to be the channel through which His power is unleashed in our world!

Why? Why?

All I can think, as I consider our status as “image bearers,” is that it’s because of how much He loves us. Not because we are clever or well-behaved or (thank goodness!) athletic. Our Heavenly Father loves us–and listens to us–just because we are His.

So let’s just go ahead and take hold of His Hand. Let’s come before our Father today–the Daddy whose image we bear–and look into his face.

And if we aren’t sure what to ask for, or even how to get started, that’s okay. We can do like the disciples did, back when they beheld Jesus, and say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that You’ve called us your children, and that we’re being transformed into Your image. May we gradually become brighter and more beautiful as You enter our lives and we become like Jesus. (2 Corinthians 3:18 MSG)

And when people who know You look at us, may they think to themselves, “She has His smile.”

Amen

❤️

P.S. You can read more about what it means to be God’s image-bearer in Praying the Scriptures for Your LifeClick here if you’d like to order a copy.

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Let’s take the long way

I used to write financial planning books.

(I know, I know. Insert eye-roll emoji. Robbie would.)

I didn’t think up the money management stuff on my own; I mostly just wrote down whatever Ron Blue or Larry Burkett said, and then added some semi-colons. And while I don’t remember everything I learned from those gurus (like, if you asked me what a “pour-over will” is now, I’d probably reach for the corkscrew), there are at least three truths that have stuck:

First: God owns it all. (Helpful to remember, especially when you think about tithing. Or buying a house. Or even a new pair of shoes. Would God do that with your/His paycheck?)

Second: Financial freedom comes from spending less than you earn. (Harder than it sounds. See earlier note re shoes.)

And finally: Time is a tool–and the more you have of it, the better.

That last point, the one about time being our ally, also holds true in prayer. Just like extending our time horizon in financial planning can allow the “magic” of compounding to exponentially grow a nest egg, so giving God time to work in response to our prayers releases Him to do more–immeasurably more–than anything we might think we desire.

And just like taking the long view in our finances can help us ride the market’s highs and lows without panicking, so adopting a long-term prayer strategy can help us wait well and keep praying–even when the answer seems slow in coming.

Which happens, right? In every season of prayer…

The toddler who won’t sleep through the night. The teenager battling loneliness. The adult child who has walked away from his faith. The spouse who is looking for work. The sickness–physical or emotional–that just won’t go away.

It can be easy, in the face of delayed provision or unanswered prayers, to want to give up. Maybe, we think to ourselves, God has some secret reason for withholding an answer–and the most pious thing we could do would be to just quit.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s take the long view, recognizing that God is at work–even when we can’t see what he’s doing, and even when the waiting is hard. And I don’t know much about all the ways that God works (less, even, than I know about handling money), but here again, there are three things that are true:

First: God loves us. Lavishly and without condition, even on our worst days.

Second: He is all-powerful. It doesn’t matter what our need is; he is able to help.

And finally: His timing is perfect.

God might be timing things so we learn perseverance. That’s a quality I want my own kids to have; seems like God might want it to shape our lives, too. Sure, I love it when prayer works like a vending machine (request in; answer out), but honestly? The blessings that come after a hard fight or a long wait are the answers I treasure the most.

He might be giving us an opportunity to hone our request. Just like earthly parents can get an earful sometimes (one of our kids recently asked for a kitten that comes with its ears folded down, which I gather costs more than some cars), so our Heavenly Father hears all our petitions. Sometimes, though, He has a different idea. (Like, He might want us to get a free cat. Or even no cat.) And when He does, we are wise to follow Christ’s example and pray not just for what we want, but in submission to God’s better plan.

Or God could be testing our faith. Not so that He can know how we measure up–He already has that intel–but so that we can. We need to know that we’ve staked our trust in something that’s real, that our confidence is well-placed, and that the ties that bind us to Jesus are strong.

God could be doing any number of things while we wait. I don’t know. But let’s not give up. Instead, let’s take the long view, knowing how much He loves us–and recognizing that even though we might not see the whole scope of what God is doing, He makes everything beautiful in its time.

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in prayer, but help us remember that at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

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Focus on the Family (and the antidote to worry and fear)

Last fall, I was honored–no, make that thrilled–to sit down with Jim Daly and John Fuller, co-hosts of the Focus on the Family radio program.

We talked about parenting, and how our prayers for our kids change as they grow. And we covered things like worry and fear, and the fact that (as much as we might not like it) God often shapes our faith in life’s valleys. And that He will shape our kids’ lives, and their faith, in those low places too.

Jim and John are the most gracious hosts. Plus, they’re great dads; I found myself wishing that I were the one asking the prayer-and-parenting questions, and not the other way ’round!

The program airs today, and if you’d like to check it out, click here.

But if all you’ve got time for is just one little thought, here’s an encouraging note from the show:

Prayer is the antidote to a parent’s worry and fear.

When we find out something that scares us–whether it’s the news that our first grader has been stealing crayons from the classroom supply closet, our teenager got pulled for drunk driving, or our adult child’s marriage is falling apart–our default response is often worry. Or anger. Sadness. Or fear.

(All legitimate emotions–and all places I’ve been.)

But what if that’s not the whole picture? What if God sees things differently? What if, instead of prompting us to panic, He is clueing us in to a problem–letting us see our child’s need–specifically so we can pray?

God has good plans for our kids. And prayer is His invitation to us to partner with Him in accomplishing His purposes–even when we don’t see how things could work out, or when it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. Prayer opens the door to provision, that God may be glorified in our lives.

If you’re facing something that’s making your heart ache today–something that fills you with worry or fear–remember God’s promise in Psalm 34:18. He is close to the brokenhearted. He saves us when we are crushed.

Lean into that closeness. Let God’s strong arms comfort you. He’s a parent; He gets it.

And then, as you draw courage and strength in God’s presence, don’t give panic a foothold. Instead, lift your head, along with your hands, and let your default position be one of prayer.

Heavenly Father,

You are the God of our family. You have loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with unfailing kindness.

Our children are your children. Save them, gather them, lead them along level paths where they will not stumble.

Turn our mourning into gladness; give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Satisfy us with abundance, and with your bounty.

(Excerpted from Jeremiah 31:1-14)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Robbie and I are so grateful for Focus on the Family, and for all the ways they have encouraged and strengthened our marriage, our parenting, and our faith. To access more info on everything from helping your kids overcome rejection to protecting your family against today’s opioid epidemic, click here.

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Let’s take prayer out of church

Happy New Year!

I am already in love with 2019, mostly because of the people I’ve been spending time with, and the places we’ve been. “Captain” Robbie and I started the year on a boat with our people…

…and since coming ashore, I’ve been hanging out in the classroom with Andrew Murray and Jesus:

I first read Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer back in college, when my brain worked a little better than it does now. Honestly though? Murray’s words are richer the second time around, even if I do have to process some paragraphs twice. (The book, originally published in 1885, says that it’s been “updated for the modern reader,” but I’m guessing that “modern” maybe means different things to different people…)

Anyhow.

Having been “in school” now for almost a month, I can’t wait to share what I’m learning with you!

For starters, Murray maintains that prayer is the most important and influential thing we can do. It is, he says, “the highest part of the work entrusted to us–the root and strength of all other work.”

Underscoring his point, Murray notes that Jesus didn’t teach anybody to preach; rather, He taught people to pray. And His very first pupil wasn’t one of the disciples. It was (and this was an eye-opener for me) the woman He met at the well.

You know the story. Jesus is tired. And thirsty. And probably hot, since it’s the middle of the day. He’s alone by a well and when a Samaritan woman comes along to draw water, He asks her for a drink.

And she says…no.

Not in so many words, of course. But instead of getting water for Jesus, the gal can’t figure out why He’s asking. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman,” she says. “How can you ask me for a drink?”

Again, you know the deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t fraternize much; to the Jews, Samaritans were “unclean.” And this gal wasn’t just average unclean; she was extra unclean, having had five husbands and a sixth man now sharing her bed. Still, though, Jesus engaged her…

Which is where Andrew Murray comes in.

The woman wanted to know whether worship should happen in Jerusalem (like the Jews thought) or Samaria (like her people thought). Jesus told her that neither answer was the right one, since “a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.”

That’s John 4:23. And the way Murray sees it, Jesus was saying that prayer is not confined to a place. It wasn’t limited to Jerusalem or Samaria, any more than it is limited to our churches or even our individual prayer closets. Instead, true worship happens when the Spirit of the Son, dwelling within us, reveals the Spirit of the Father and teaches us how to pray.

All of which points to two truths:

Truth #1: It doesn’t matter who we are or where we’ve been; Jesus wants us to pray, and he is eager to teach us. Never think you are too broken or clumsy or ignorant about churchy stuff to sit in Christ’s classroom. If he took time for the Samaritan woman (whose questions were legit), he will delight in taking time to teach us.

Truth #2: True worship works a whole lot like breathing. Instead of confining our praises and prayers to a particular place or “quiet time,” the Spirit of Christ in our hearts can (and should) connect with God all day long.

And I know, I know. Right now, some of you are thinking: But who has all day? I can barely find five minutes to pray!

I hear you. I thought the same thing, back when we had four kids under age six, and I spent most of my days doing things like cutting grapes, finding socks, or trying to catch a worm so Hillary could take it to school for Pet Day. (Lame, I know, but not nearly as bad as my grandmother, who gave my mother a saucepan on a leash to play with. Truly. But “Fluffy the Pot” is a story for another day…)

Prayer, I figured, was reserved for people who had more time, less children, and a whole lot less laundry than me.

But the thing is, we do have the time. We really do have “all day” to pray.

When we get dressed in the morning (or fold the umpteenth pair of clean socks), we can ask God to clothe us (or our kids) with things like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

When we slice up an apple or bite into a berry, we can pray that God will fill our lives with the fruit of His Spirit: things like love, joy, self-control, and peace. (Galatians 5:22)

When we head into a meeting, especially if we aren’t sure how things will go down, we can do like King David and ask God to shape our words and our thoughts so that what comes out will be pleasing to Him. (Psalm 19:14)

And when we collapse into bed at the end of the day, we can thank Him for being the one who offers rest to all who are weary, whether we are burdened in body or soul. (Matthew 11:28-29)

You don’t have to know the verses; you get the idea. Prayer prompts can be found everywhere. And the more we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus, trusting Him as our Teacher, the more he will show them to us!

And speaking of prompts…

If you want a little help jump starting your prayer life in 2019, you can download a free monthly prayer calendar here. There are versions for children, teens, and adults, and you can use the prompts to pray daily or by topic, simply adding the names of the people you love.

And speaking of people you love…

I am more than a little bit grateful for you. Thank you, dear Friends, for sticking with me during the “blog break” last month. I have some fresh ideas to share in the new year–thoughts on family life, prayer helps, and more–and I look forward to seeing where the Lord leads. And as always, I am praying for you:

May God bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

 

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Mom, will you pray for me?

True confession. I am not much of a women’s retreat gal. All that hugging, all that talking, all those smiles.

Makes my face hurt, just thinking about it.

But when the folks at Moms in Prayer invited me to join them at the Unshaken retreat last weekend, I jumped at the chance. Heck, if they’d invited me to donate a kidney, I’d have jumped on that too. I’d do just about anything, in fact, for the women behind the ministry that has done more to shape my prayer life (and, by extension, my kids’ lives) than anything or anyone except Jesus.

And you know what? I loved it. I loved every single minute of our time in Asheville, North Carolina. The worship was amazing, the teaching incredibly rich, and even the endless smiling didn’t bug me as much as I’d feared. And since I know most of you were not there (although some of you were; it was great to meet you!), I am going to take a little detour from the usual blog post routine and recap a few highlights. These nuggets were golden for me; maybe they’ll encourage you, too.

Our first speaker was Jennifer Kennedy Dean. You may recognize her as the author of Live a Praying Life (hands-down, my favorite prayer study), but if not, here’s she is (pictured with Moms in Prayer founder Fern Nichols and me):

Noting that prayer is “proof of how much God loves us” (because he chose to work with us and through us, instead of around us), Jennifer talked about how God always answers the cry of our hearts. She pointed to Psalm 37:4 (“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”) and explained that the word delight comes from a Hebrew word that means “soft” and “moldable.” When God has our heart–when he molds it and shapes it–he gives us desires that we might not even be fully aware of…and then he says “yes.” Does that sometimes run counter to what our lips might be praying? Sure. But, as Jennifer said, “God isn’t interested in pacifying us. He is interested in satisfying us.”

Good stuff. I’m still processing how to get my head and my lips to line up with my heart, but I like it.

The next day, we heard Renee Swope:

I wasn’t familiar with Renee’s work (she has a book called  A Confident Heart), but I’m now a big fan. I loved her message on trusting God in the face of life’s triggers (things like doubt, fear, comparison, criticism, and our need for control), and I found myself utterly captivated as she talked about her teenaged son telling her he was an atheist. “I wanted to panic,” Renee said, “but I knew that would only make things worse.”

She asked God what she should do.

Don’t say anything,” she sensed the Lord say. “Just be who you say I am.”

Be who you say I am.

How awesome is that? I mean, we talk about wanting to model Christ’s love, and to treat people (especially our kids) the way that God does, but how often do we stop and think about what that looks like in real life? How, practically speaking, do we live out that love? How often do we default to criticism, nagging, worry, or fear when a better approach would be to be patient? Or gentle? Or kind?

Or even to just be with our child?

Renee’s son eventually gave his life to the Lord. I can’t share the whole story here (I’d mess it up if I tried), but I’m crazy about the punch line:

“I just got tired,” the young man said, “of living without hope.”

Wowza.

And finally, on Sunday morning, Fern Nichols got up. (You know how our daughters feel about getting to see Taylor Swift? Yeah. That’s basically how these praying moms–and grandmoms–felt about Fern.)

Fern started Moms in Prayer in 1989, back when her kids were in middle school, and for the past 40 years, she has encouraged mothers all over the world with the call of Lamentations 2:19: “Arise, cry out… Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children.”

You’d think, what with this being a Moms in Prayer thing, that the 400+ attendees wouldn’t need a refresher on the Four Steps of Prayer (the strategy that shapes every MIP meeting), but no. We did. And at the risk of dumbing things down (and please click on that link to get a bigger picture), here are the Cliff Notes:

Step One is praise. Praising God takes our eyes off our circumstances and focuses it on the One who is able. Whatever the need, he is equipped to meet it.

Step Two is silent confession because, as Fern put it, “a pure heart is behind every effective prayer.” If we’re sitting there hating our husband (or cherishing any other ick stuff), we can’t expect our prayers to get through.

Step Three is thanksgiving. Every sin, Fern said, stems from pride. When we take time to thank God–to acknowledge his grace and provision–it’s a reminder that all that we have, and all that we are, comes from him.

And Step Four is intercession, naming our children’s needs–as well as the needs of their teachers and schools–and asking God to meet them. This is where praying the scriptures really comes in, as we rely on God’s promises to shape our perspective and give life to our prayers.

If you’re already part of a Moms in Prayer group, you know all of this. But if you’re not, and you’d like to know more, click here.

But here’s the thing. Don’t try to go it alone. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two; he knew that they’d need one another. And so do we. Grab at least one other mom and invite her to pray.

So there you have it. I’ve left out 98% of my notes, but I hope you’ve connected with something I’ve shared–and that the next time your child says, “Mom, will you pray for me?”, you’ll feel a bit more equipped to jump in.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Yeah, right. My kid asking for prayer? That’ll be the day.”

I hear you. But…can I just say three things?

First, I get it. I’ve been there.

Second, we worship a God of surprises. Don’t count him out.

And third, let’s go back to Jennifer’s teaching. Because maybe your child’s lips aren’t asking for prayer, but that is the cry of their heart.

And when that happens, we can slip our hand into God’s and say “Yes.”

(That’s my cute friend Lynn. She is the kind of prayer partner you want. Not only does she pray with boldness and faith, but she’s a complete fashionista and half the time, when she sees you, she gives you a new scarf. 😊)

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The best parenting tip? Hint: It’s not the chore chart…

In case you missed it…

I was honored (and more than a little intimidated!) to write a guest post this week for Club31Women, where they are all about equipping folks to enjoy strong marriages, healthy families, and joy-filled homes. And all I could think, as I recalled the early days of our parenting, was how I longed to get it all right. Thank goodness God has a good sense of humor–and that he is faithful in the midst of our mess!

 

It was one of those days. None of my “good parenting” strategies seemed to be working.

I looked at the chore chart on the fridge. Half the stuff was not done.

The character chart? The one where the kids could earn stars? Let’s just say we had a lot of white space.

And the Bible memory verse I had posted? Please. Why don’t they tell you to aim lower, maybe with something like John 11:35?

Jesus wept. Roger that.

As I said, it was one of those days. We’d had four kids in six years, and as I looked around at the mayhem (and found the missing cat in the refrigerator—“It’s the orphanage, Mom!”), something snapped.

“Can anybody,” I challenged, “tell me a Bible verse? Just one. I will take anything.”

Four little bodies stopped moving. Four sets of eyes (not counting the cat’s) stared into mine. Nobody spoke, until finally Robbie—aged 5—offered this:

“Don’t slip?”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Robbie back-pedaled. “Wait,” he said. “Maybe that one is a pool rule…”

Wanna see where this post goes? Click here to keep reading–and while you’re at it, check out all the fabulous marriage and parenting helps over at Club31Women.com.

And maybe pray for Virginia. Last weekend, she told us that she’s got her eyes on another kitten she wants to adopt…

 

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You don’t need a hat for this leadership job

Whenever a young man seemed to be getting serious about one of our daughters, Robbie would “invite” him to have The Talk.

The Talk is strictly a guy thing, but from the after-action reports I’ve been privy to over the years, I think the nutshell version goes something like this:  Every relationship my daughter has is going to draw her closer to Christ, or farther away. Which one are you?

And then, if the fellow indicates that his intentions fall into the first category, there is a follow-up query: How do you see yourself doing that? 

I think these questions are worth considering, and not just for would-be boyfriends or grooms. At the end of the day, I imagine all of us would love for our companions to say, “I am closer to Christ because of my relationship with ______.”

And that, says our friend Ty Saltzgiver, is “the influence of our Spiritual Leadership.”

If you’ve been tracking with us in September, you know that this is Book Giveaway month, and each week I am highlighting a different offering from Ty’s website, SaltResources.com. This week’s featured title is Reflections on Spiritual Leadership.

Now, I realize that the phrase “spiritual leadership” can be tricky. I’ll never forget one of our friends telling us how confused he was when his girlfriend’s father told him that it was his job to be the spiritual leader in their relationship.

“I had never heard that term before,” our friend said. “I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe it was like a Halloween costume or something–you know, something where I needed a hat.”

(Happily, the guy figured it out, and he has been a beautiful influence on his wife, his three children, and their assorted family and friends for the past 30-plus years.)

Acknowledging that his little book is not a “comprehensive treatment” of spiritual leadership, Ty draws on his own relationships and ministry experience (he spent more than 40 years on staff with Young Life) to flesh out reflections on a handful of leadership categories, including:

The state of our soul. “The main plot of our lives,” Ty says, “is how we are growing and maturing in Jesus, not how we are doing in our job or ministry.” If we sense that we are depleted (like, if we start seeing people as interruptions instead of as friends, or if we freak out when the toilet stops up or whatever), that’s a sign that we’ve drifted from our Number One Love (Jesus), and that we need to re-calibrate.

Our belief about success. Do we think that accomplishing goals and fulfilling plans is up to us? Or do we realize that it’s all up to God? Mother Teresa considered herself “just a pencil in the Hand of God”; do we see ourselves the same way? “Jesus wasn’t kidding,” Ty writes, “when he said, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’

Humility. “None of us wants to be arrogant, proud, self-sufficient, or unapproachable,” Ty says. “Yet, humility is the most elusive character trait for the Spiritual Leader.” Gosh, I like this chapter. Ty digs into what humility is (and what it isn’t) and points us toward Jesus as the model for what our lives should look like: Confident in our identity (“humility has nothing to do with a low self-image”), but never forcing ourselves on other people. Being always willing to learn. Choosing gratitude. And, like Moses (who was “very humble, more than any other man”), unwilling to go anywhere or do anything without God.

Like I said, good stuff.

Ty tackles other topics in the book, too, topics like the practical steps we should take (including praying for people and entering into their pain, which, Ty says, can be a “learned art”), and building a culture of trust. But becoming a better leader is not a matter of “measuring up,” or of adding godly stuff to our lives so that we can impact people in a positive way.

“Our doing more things to be a Spiritual Leader,” Ty writes, “is like an apple tree grunting and trying harder to produce good apples.”

Sure, we can water and fertilize the tree (Ty calls this “greenhousing” our souls), but at the end of the day, God spurs the growth. The simple fact that we desire to grow brings pleasure to God–and we can trust him to mature and develop us (even if we sometimes seem to move backwards). We can relax and rejoice in the knowledge that God is getting it done.

Which, for anyone who longs to draw closer to Christ (and to bring others along for the ride), is very good news.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins, and for entrusting us with the task of telling everyone what you are doing. Make us wise and faithful representatives as we encourage others to walk with you, work with you, and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 & Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)

Amen.

❤️

Want to know more about spiritual leadership and what that looks like in our lives? Order your copy of Reflections on Spiritual Leadership from SaltResources.com, or post a comment here, or on Instagram or Facebook, for your chance to win this week’s book giveaway.

Congrats to last week’s giveaway winner, a gal who always cleans out her lint trap! Lilly, send me your address (contact me here) and your copy of …And Jesus said, “Follow me” will be on its way!

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Don’t let bad stuff get stuck in your vent

Our clothes dryer stopped working last week.

We had a repair guy come take a look, and it sputtered to life–but then quit again after a handful of loads. Finally, we gave in and bought a new dryer. When the guys came to install it, the old vent thing fell out of the wall…along with about eight years’ worth of dog hair, beach sand, and lint.

I know. I know. Don’t be telling me what a fire hazard that is. Or that we should have checked the vent set-up before replacing the whole thing. Believe me, I know. But that’s not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is that September is Book Giveaway month, and this week’s featured title from author Ty Saltzgiver is And Jesus Said, “…Follow Me”.

Follow Me has soooo many great pearls to ponder. On the subject of trust, for instance, Ty writes, “We all want clarity, but isn’t clarity the opposite of trust?”

On the difficulty we face, sometimes, in receiving, he says, “Doing love is good for the ego; sitting quietly and receiving love is humbling.”

And on the longing we have for more than position, possessions, and pleasures, Ty writes, “The soul’s function is to yearn in order for us to know that LIFE is more than what this world can bring us.”

See? So much good stuff, all offered in bite-sized chapters we can read on our own or with friends.

Surprisingly (because this is NOT a subject that I like to dwell on too much), one of the Follow Me chapters I found most captivating was about sin.

(I know, I know. You don’t like that topic either. But stick with me for a hot sec.)

Nobody likes to acknowledge their sin, to admit that they’ve failed, or that they’ve blown it (again). But doing so, Ty says, is “vital and growth-producing.”

Here’s why (and I’m quoting Ty here):

A sign of drawing closer to Jesus is being more aware of one’s sin (sometimes even having the accompanying “feeling” of being farther from Jesus). It’s like the light being turned up brighter in a room revealing faded paint, a water spot, and a crack in the wall, all that were unnoticed in the previous low light.

Boy, do I get that.

And I’d find the whole light-on-the-spot thing super discouraging, except for what happens when sin gets revealed–and confessed. More from Ty:

Once you call sin by name before God (that is, once you confess it), three things happen:

  1. You are forgiven and God does not count it against you.
  2. The sin is disarmed; it no longer has the same power in your life.
  3. God can begin, in his power and time, to heal you and take that sin from you.

The courage to confess sin springs from knowing that God’s love for us is undiminished by our sin. He longs to pour out His love on us, and in us, in Tidal Wave fashion. He longs to grow us into the unique person who He’s dreamed us to be. He longs to be intimate with us. Our sin unconfessed is the only barrier.

I love that.

And there’s lots more in the chapter–like, thought-provoking discussion questions, catchy Greek words for sin, and Bible verses that can help us flesh out the picture.

The only thing missing (and I don’t mean to tell Ty how to write) is the obvious illustration about how our relationship with the Lord is like a clothes dryer vent. As long as it’s clear, our lives work pretty well. But clog up the works with a mix of dog hair and sin, and stuff starts to break down. There is just no flow.

But when we identify and dislodge the bad stuff–when we name our sin and humbly confess it, even if that feels painful or awkward (and speaking from experience, it often does)–God goes to work. The stream of living water which flows from the heart of Jesus into our hearts flows less constricted, more freely.

We find ourselves caught up in a tidal wave of God’s love.

Heavenly Father,

How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven! Keeping silent about our sin saps our strength, but confession takes away guilt. (Psalm 32:1-5)

Show me the places where I resist reviewing myself, places where I may be (even unknowingly) hiding my sin. Grant me the courage to confess, secure in your limitless love.

Amen.

❤️
And Jesus said, “…Follow Me” is a great book for small group discussion–even if your “group” is the teenagers around your table at dinnertime. I tested a few chapters (they’re just two pages long) on my (young adult) children this summer, with decent results. I mean, my people actually made a few engaged-sounding comments. Which I count as a win.
Want your own copy of Follow Me? Click here to order, or enter to win this week’s giveaway by posting a comment here, or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt), or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites). And congrats to last week’s winner, Jenny Francis – Jenny, your copy of My First 30 Quiet Times is on it’s way!

 

 

 

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Friendships and Gutters Should Flow

“Friendships, like gutters, need to flow.”

No, that’s not C.S. Lewis. Or even Chip Gaines. It’s a little wisdom nugget from this guy:

Ever since he started reading this blog, Bobby has been hinting that I might want to write about him. I don’t normally take this sort of request, but in addition to having the world’s cleanest gutters (a status he attributes to his patent-worthy gutter cleaning invention), Bobby has about 10 zillion friends, so I figured that maybe he knows something worth knowing.

And as it turns out, he actually does.

“Stuff needs to flow through gutters for them to work,” Bobby maintains. “And friendships need flow as well. Communication, vulnerability, time, laughter, shared pain, shared experiences, wisdom, insight…all of these things need to be a dynamic part of our connections if we want our friendships to flourish.”

I like that. And if you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that friendship is a topic I love (even when I’m feeling friendless, like I was in this post):

Over the years, we’ve talked about how friendship is what college kids really need (click here for some ways we can pray good friends into their lives), and we’ve looked at why it’s important to have people who will speak truth to us, even when doing so is awkward or hard (because it’s not, as this post explains, always a great idea to just “follow your heart”).

And longtime readers may remember when we dabbled in science, drawing encouragement from research–and yes, they did actually do this to people–that proves you feel better, when you get shocked, if somebody is holding your hand. (That post came with a free printable featuring nine “friendship” prayer cards.)

Clearly, I like to write about friendship.

But getting back to the main point of this blog. Which again, Bobby thinks should be Bobby.

Bobby is part of a group of friends Robbie and I try to connect with, in person, at least once a year.

We ask each other hard questions. What are you doing to invest in your marriage? Where have you struggled at work? How might God want to use you, and your gifts, in the next season of life? What are you doing to grow closer to Him?

We laugh. We try not to make too much fun of each other, but sometimes (like when one of us breaks out an “invention” that he built all by himself and wants to know if anybody is willing to fund it) we can’t help it.

And we pray. We pray for our jobs, our kids, our marriages, and our own stubborn hearts, asking God to work on the places where we’ve strayed or grown hard, and to remind us that (even still) He calls us Beloved.

If you’re reading this post and you think, “I wish I had friends like that,” can I just tell you one thing? You probably do. Ask God to show you who might be open to deeper connections, and then reach out to one or two folks. That’s what happened with our group. As one of us made the pivot from raising her children to the Empty Nest years, she wanted people who would walk alongside her in the new season. She put out some feelers (“Who wants to be friends?”), and the rest of us jumped on board.

And if you’re reading and thinking, “I love my friends!”, let them know! There’s a reason the Bible is so full of exhortations like 1 Thessalonians 5:11; God knows that good things happen when we “encourage one another and build each other up.” Take a moment today to make a phone call, send a text, or write a note (and then remember to mail it) to let a friend know they are loved.

Genuine friendships–like free-flowing gutters–rarely “just happen.” Like Bobby said, they take commitment. Transparency. And a  willingness to overlook offenses (because even small stuff can sometimes clog up the tube).

And, of course, prayer always helps.

The Bible is bursting with good things we can pray for our friends–and these are the very blessings God longs to provide! Click on any of the earlier posts to download some prayers, or join me today in borrowing from Isaiah 61, and use one or two of these verses to lift up those you hold dear.

Heavenly Father,

When _____ is brokenhearted or in need of comfort, clothe them with a garment of praise instead of despair. (v. 1-3)

Grow _____ into a strong oak of righteousness, and may their lives display your splendor. (v. 3)

Replace _____’s shame or disgrace with an inheritance of everlasting joy. (v. 7)

May all who see _____ acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (v. 9)

Amen

(And yes, Bobby. I did put your whole family right there in verse 9.)

😊

 

 

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We Can’t Quench God’s Love

(Note: Robbie and I are in Canada this week. We’re enjoying some good “unplugged” time, but here’s a quick post–along with a pic of the evening view from our dock. This place isn’t fancy, but if you don’t mind a few snakes, mosquitos, and a composting toilet, it’s pretty much paradise.)

“Here is a theologian who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

That’s how Elisabeth Elliot describes J. I. Packer in his timeless book, Knowing GodAnd I have to say that one of of Packer’s most encouraging messages (at least for bottom-shelf sheep like myself) is that nothing we do–and nothing we have ever done–comes as a shocker to God. And none of it can keep him from loving us.

Here’s how Packer puts it:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

We can’t quench God’s love. Or (and I love this part) his determination to bless us.

That’s good stuff. But Packer didn’t make it up, of course. I suspect he got it from places like Romans 8:38, which is where Paul says that nothing–neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell–can separate us from God’s love.

Maybe just take a moment right now and let those words settle over your soul.

And if you, or someone you love, needs a little help when it comes to receiving the reality of God’s limitless love, here’s one way we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Amen

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Forget the iPotty; Add Prayer to Your Baby Wish List

I’ve been to a few baby showers in recent months, and I’m amazed at all the stuff you can buy. Today’s registries include everything from traditional onesies and blankets to what-the-heck items like the Baby Butt Fan (“experts agree” that air drying prevents diaper rash), the iPotty (because apparently today’s toddlers don’t want to miss a minute of screen time), and the Kickbee (a thing pregnant moms wrap on their bellies to digitally detect baby’s kicks–and then tweet them out to the world).

(I know. How did my generation make it through nine months without that?)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in addition to burp cloths and bottles, we could add character traits to our cart? Think about it. Expectant mothers could add things like wisdom, kindness, and self-control for their kids. I might register for gentleness and patience, and an others-centered outlook on life. And wouldn’t we all want gifts like perseverance, integrity, a joyful spirit, and a thankful heart?

The list, of course, could go on. And how cool would it be if all we had to do was throw a shower and have our friends bring us these blessings?

Happily, God’s got another–better–way to give these good gifts to our kids. He invites us to ask him for them.

In his book, How to PrayR.A. Torrey says that prayer is “God’s appointed way for obtaining things, and the great secret of all lack in our experience, in our life and in our work is neglect of prayer.”

Torrey’s not the one who came up with the link between asking and receiving; we see that played out in the Bible (see, for instance, Matthew 7:7 and John 16:24). For a lot of folks, though, Torrey’s words can feel daunting. We know we should pray, but sometimes we don’t–and we can beat ourselves up over that lack.

And perhaps no one beats themselves up more than young moms. This comment, shared last week on a friend’s Instagram post, pierced my heart:

I was such a good pray-er until God blessed me with a second boy. I have three energetic sons, ages 3, 5 and 1. Between teething and nighttime breastfeeding and everything else, I feel so bad in all spheres. And I feel guilty.

Boy, can I ever relate. Robbie and I had four kids in six years, and honestly? I don’t know how today’s mothers do it. I see them making their own baby food and checking labels for all things organic; I remember dumping Trix cereal out on the high chair and hoping that counted as fruit.

And prayer time? That was reserved for people who had fewer kids and less laundry than I did. Any time I heard about some Varsity Christian who spent hours in prayer (like the persecuted people on the other side of the world all seemed to be doing) I’d want to throw in the prayer towel and quit. “I’m just not that holy,” I’d think to myself. “I’m just not that good.”

And I’d feel bad for my kids, cuz I knew they had a lame-Christian mom.

But then I met Cynthia Heald, a best-selling author whose books include Becoming a Woman of Prayer“I’d like to be a woman of prayer,” I told her, “but I’m not. I almost never have time to sit down with my notebook and a Bible to pray–and I feel like my prayers don’t really count.”

Cynthia set me straight. “You can pray in the carpool line,” she said, “or while you’re washing dishes. Pray while you walk through your neighborhood, or while you clean the bathroom. It doesn’t take a lot of time or preparation to meet God. Just go to him, and you’re there.”

Now, I am sure that Cynthia Heald would encourage all of us to make time in our schedules for some concentrated, uninterrupted prayer, but her gentle advice to “just do it” got me started. I began to pray while I drove, while I made lunches, and even while I scrubbed toilets, using (and I realize this sounds kind of pathetic) the smell of Lysol, in place of biblical incense, to remind me to pray.

All of which is to say (especially to the new mamas out there):  Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t believe the lie that your prayers have to be perfect, or long, or written down in a beautiful faux-leather journal to count.

That season will come.

For now, take your parenting cue from the disciples. Granted, they never had to make a Pilgrim costume out of a grocery bag and brown packing tape, but they did need to know how to pray–and so they asked Jesus for help. They asked him to teach them, and we can do the same thing. We can ask God to show us how to pray, and to help us make the most of our minutes.

God knows what it’s like to have kids and to want good things for their lives. Prayer is the vehicle he invented for us to ask him to provide.

And all we have to do is…just do it.

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to live wisely and well. (Psalm 90:12 MSG)

Prompt us to lift up our hands to you and plead for the lives of our children. (Lamentations 2:19 NLT)

And remind us, when we are weary and worn, that we can come boldly before your throne, knowing that your grace is always there to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

Amen

(Note to moms eyeing the iPotty: We used that book, Toilet Training in Less than a Daywhich, if I remember right, worked really well and only required salty chips, candy rewards, and like 17 gallons of apple juice.)

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Duct-taping Your Kids (and other Mom Fails)

“Wait. Mom. Are you reading your own book? That is just so…sad.”

That was Virginia, more than 10 years ago, when she burst into my bedroom and discovered me sitting up in bed, reading my copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. What Virginia didn’t know was that I was using the book to help shape my prayers for her life. All she could see was her mother doing something that looked, to her teenaged eye, pretty pathetic.

Happily, Virginia is all grown up now, and she doesn’t think it’s strange when I pray. Or when I read my own books. Which is a good thing, since I was at it again yesterday. I was thinking about a friend who is going through a rough patch in her parenting, and I turned to the chapter about parent-child relationships to find some good scripture-prayers. And I came upon this:

I wrote those words nearly 20 years ago, but honestly? They mean so much more to me now. Because the older I get, the more aware I am of how far I fall short. Of how often I’ve let my kids down. Of how my weaknesses (especially in parenting) don’t seem to be going away.

I remember being a young mom, and wanting so badly to set a good example for my kids. I wanted to be able to change diapers, run carpools, and help with science projects–all while being wise, resourceful, hospitable, encouraging, diligent, creative, generous, faithful, watchful, vigorous, strong, and cheerful. That’s not a list I made up; I read it in Proverbs 31. And if that was God’s standard for an excellent woman, then that’s the mark I wanted to hit.

Hold on, all you Bible scholars out there. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that the Proverbs 31 woman was not a real woman, but rather a type of woman. Or that she was really a conglomeration of admirable attributes manifested in the lives of several different women. Or that she was nothing human at all; rather, she was the personification of wisdom, showing us what wisdom might look like, if we could see it in action.

Blah blah blah.

I know all of that. And I knew it, back then. But I’ve always liked clear objectives–targets to shoot for–and the attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman are nothing if not well-defined.

(Literally. Proverbs 31:17 even talks about her fabulous biceps.)

And so I tried. I started by checking off the verses I had covered. Things like sewing clothing and curtains (which I actually did, back then), working late into the night (which seemed both noble and necessary, at the time), and getting up while it was still dark (which was the only time my mom friends could meet up for a run). Verses 19, 18, and 15. Done.

At first, I felt good. I was on a Proverbs 31 roll. How hard could it be, to buckle down and check off the rest?

Ha.

You know what happened.

I couldn’t do it. Forget about planting a vineyard or bringing food from afar (v. 16 and 14); there were days when I could barely get to the store (and even then it was not anything to be proud of, as I jammed all four kids into one grocery cart and piled boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese on their heads). And that part about “faithful instruction” (v. 26)? Unless you count that time I got so tired of listening to Hillary and Annesley bicker that I duct-taped them together and made them clean all the toilets one-handed, I’m not sure they learned all that much.

(Simmer down, people. It was only their wrists. And only one arm per girl. I am pretty sure they were…fine.)

Anyhow.

The more I tried to be an exemplary mom, the more I became, as my friend Kenzie put it, “the Proverbs 32 woman.” Who is not, as we all know, someone who shows up in the Bible.

If you want to read more (like, if epic mom-fails are your thing), you can pick up the book, but for now I’ll just get to the point and say this:  My weakness was where Jesus came in.

Truly.

And that’s where he still does.

Because no matter how hard I tried–or how hard I still try–to do everything “right,” there will always be days when I blow it. I will do and say things I regret. And, unlike the Proverbs 31 mother, I will never know what it’s like to have my kids get out of bed in the morning and call me Blessed. (But don’t think that I haven’t thought about picking that as my grandmother name, if and when that time comes.)

But you know what I’ve learned, after 30 years of mom-fails? I’ve learned that the less I rely on my own abilities and the more I rely on Christ–and the more I let my children (even now, as adults) see me depending on him for wisdom, guidance, and strength–the more I will be able to set the only example that’s worth following.

Instead of saying, “Look at me,” I can say, “Look at Jesus.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that we don’t have to be perfect parents–that we don’t even have to be close. Help us, and our children, to rely on your wisdom and grace. And instead of trying to “do good” or “be good” by ourselves, may we look to you and your strength; may we seek your face always. (Psalm 105:4)

Amen

 

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Who is Your Father?

 

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

At least that’s what the Bible says. But…how often, or how much, do we truly believe that?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a post about how we can’t let anyone label us with the wrong name, because God calls us “Beloved.” And this week, as we look ahead to Father’s Day, I am thinking the same thing holds true for God. No matter what our concept of “father” might be, we can’t saddle our Heavenly Father with any names that don’t fit.

God labels himself. And thankfully (incredibly, actually), he tells us exactly who he is, so we can know him. And so we don’t get it wrong.

He is faithful (even when we aren’t). He is patient (even when we are super slow). He is loving (even when we are the worst kind of un-lovable).

And the list goes on.

If you really want to dig into who God is (and what that means for our lives), grab a copy of Ruth Myer’s book, Thirty-One Days of Praise (which you can find featured on my bookshelf right now). It’s a resource I turn to, again and again.

Why? Because it is just so darn easy to get things mixed up! Instead of taking God at his word–believing he is who he SAYS that he is–we sometimes put him in a box. We negate his nature. We put limits on his love.

We might not say it out loud, but deep inside we might wonder…

How could he love me, after all that I’ve done?

How could he possibly care about my little problems, when there is so much that is wrong with the world?

How could he ever forgive me for ______ ? (Fill in the blank with whatever it is that you think separates you, or disqualifies you, from God’s love.)

All of which is a bunch of…  I was going to say a word I don’t let my kids say, but I’ll just go with “baloney.” And not only is it baloney, but it is also (buckle up, cuz this part is not pretty) jaw-droppingly arrogant. I mean, who are WE to say what God can or can’t do? He says he loves us. He says he’ll provide. He says he’s got everything under control.

We don’t have to understand all this stuff for it to be true.

(We really don’t.)

So this Father’s Day, as we think about the One who named himself Father, let’s not get things mixed up. Let’s take our cue from the One he named Son, and talk to God the way Jesus did, when he invited us to call him “our” Father. Old-fashioned gal that I am, I kind of love the “hallowed be thy name” lingo that King James trotted out, but I have to say that I’m also pretty pumped about the last few lines of the Lord’s Prayer in the Message. Let’s pray it together:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

(Matthew 6:9-13, MSG)

P.S. If the idea of a Father who does “what’s best” and who is “ablaze in beauty” feels foreign to you–either because you don’t really know God that way, or maybe because your earthly dad colored your world with a not-great perspective–you’re not alone. For years, I’ve loved getting weekly encouragement via email from Sylvia Gunther, and this week she shared her own painful journey being physically and emotionally abandoned by her father. To read her story–and discover who you really are, as God’s child–click here.

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Grad Tip for Parents: Let God Pick Your Kid’s Career

 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.

It’s graduation season, and I can’t think of a more encouraging verse than Psalm 32:8. Whether our kids are headed to college, to new jobs, or into the great unknown, the whole “What’s next?” thing can be daunting! And as parents, our hearts can feel like a tangled mess of emotions:  pride of accomplishment, sadness over the chapter that’s closing, or even (particularly when we don’t know what the future holds) uncertainty, with maybe a little worry mixed in.

The pride and the sadness are both beautiful things; why else would 97% of all high school yearbooks and 29% of commencement speeches give the nod to Dr. Suess:  Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened?

The uncertainty thing, though, is not so much fun. And if that’s where you are (like, if your child needs a job), I’ve got three things that might help.

The first is something Virginia (who was a college senior at the time) told me, as we discussed her (still hazy) future. “Mom,” she said, “Research shows that 72% of college students don’t have a job lined up before graduation.”

I don’t know whether Virginia was right or not. A point in her favor is that she actually worked in U.Va.’s Career Services office, where she would have had access to numbers like that, but you have to stack that against the fact that she is her mother’s daughter, and statistics (like that bit about yearbooks and speeches) sometimes get made up on the spot. Either way, though, the data made me feel better. And if it helps you to repeat this 72% claim, you can say that you read it in a blog.

The second thing that can help is prayer. It’s not just that you get a “peaceful, easy feeling” when you pray for your child; it’s more that when we bring our sons and daughters before God, we really are making a difference. As Paul told the Corinthians“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (Paul and his pals weren’t looking for work; they were more concerned with facing “deadly peril,” but the principle is the same. Our prayers matter.)

And finally, it can be good to remember the plan. We might not know what it is, but after praying (and yes, worrying) three kids through the job-hunting process, I’m finally coming to realize that God does. He knows exactly how our children are wired (Psalm 139:13-16); he’s already lined up good work for them to do (Ephesians 2:10); and he promises to instruct and counsel them in the way they should go (Psalm 32:8). Our job isn’t to worry or nag; our job–if we want to get on board with God’s plan–is simply to trust him.

So there you go: Repeat iffy statistics, pray for your kids, and trust God. And if you want help with tip #2, the folks at FaithGateway surprised me a few weeks ago when they sent word that they’d pulled a collection of prayers from the Adult Children book and created a beautiful “Praying for Your Graduate” resource for parents (click here to download):The guide includes 21 prayers, all neatly divided by seven so that you can pray one every day for three weeks.

Which, research shows, is about how long it takes for the average college grad to land his first job. 🙂

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A Printable Mother’s Day Present–for YOU!

Mother’s Day is on Sunday. I’ve spent the past few weeks noodling over what sort of present I wanted to give to the moms who follow this blog, and I’m super grateful to the folks at Yellow Leaf Marketing for helping me pull together a series of printable prayer calendars: One for CHILDREN, one for TEENS, and one for ADULTS!

(And heads up: If you don’t have kids of your own, you can download the files and start praying them for yourself, your friends, your spouse, or even–if you read last week’s post on returning blessings for insults–for the people you don’t really like! 😉)

I’ve said it before: There’s not a need we will face in parenting—or, for that matter, in life—that God has not already anticipated, and provided for, in his word.

Which is, for me, good news and bad.

The good news is that, no matter what we desire or need—wisdom, friendships, safety, courage, patience, or anything else—he has us covered. There is a verse (or 20!) that applies!

The bad news is that these calendars cover just 31 days. I had a tough time picking which of God’s promises to tap into and pray. You’ll find a lot of my favorites, but if you’ve got a concern you don’t see in this collection, you know what to do.

Grab your Bible, and just start mining the gold for yourself.

And as you lift up your family, please know that I’m praying for you. Moms (and Dads): May you be steadfast and immovable, always giving yourselves fully to the work of the Lord (like praying for your kids!), because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Happy Mother’s Day!

🌹

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By Day and By Night: Hope for the Downcast Soul

Maybe it was an over-full schedule, jammed with writing and speaking and jet-lag.

Maybe it was an over-long winter, the kind that won’t go away, like when you hit Unsubscribe but it doesn’t.

Or maybe it was just…me.

Whatever the reason, I found myself confiding in my friend Beth, when she asked how I was. “Meh,” I said, “I am tired. A little discouraged. Maybe even depressed–although I don’t have a good reason why.”

Beth and I were in party-prep mode (she was hosting; I was speaking; 50 guests were about to arrive), and we didn’t have time to go deep. But that was okay. Beth said she’d pray–and then pointed me to Psalm 42.

Which I looked up, later that night.

One of the things I love about the psalms is how raw and honest they are. It’s like the writer doesn’t know or care that his words will still be read in 3,000-plus years; he just puts it out there: Joy, fear, sadness, exultation, despair. Everything–every thought, question, or doubt–is fair game.

And if you’ve ever had a case of the blues (and who hasn’t?), you’ll appreciate what Psalm 42 asks:  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

As I sat there reading the psalm (click here to see the whole thing), I sympathized with the writer–his thirsting for God, his weeping at night, his remembering the good old days when he used to be one of the Joyful Praise People–and I kept coming back to one thought. The entire psalm is one big admonition to “put your hope in the Lord”…but what, exactly, does that look like? Like, how do you do that?

I decided to ask God.

I’m a gal who likes a plan, and if I was going to “put my hope in God,” I wanted some action steps. And (as so often happens, when you sit there with God’s Word in your lap), a verse just sort of jumped off the page:

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

Looking at those words, I remembered what our tour guide told us in Israel (and sorry if you thought I was done with the Holy Land stuff; the nuggets might pop up now and then). They said that to the Greeks (and to most Western thinkers), the word “Torah” means Law. But that’s not, actually, how the Hebrews see it. To the Hebraic mind, “Torah” means direction, instruction, and guidance.

It means Love…and it flows out of God’s Word.

Alrighty then. My Daytime Plan for putting hope in God would be to let myself be directed by his love. I resolved afresh to start each morning tapping into the Bible, letting its wisdom shape my thoughts, words and deeds. That felt do-able.

But what about the night?

Nights can be tricky. Your defenses are down, and things like worry and fear seem to thrive in the dark. Lies, too–the kind that say You can’t do it. You blew it. You stink. What’s the strategy there? How do you fight back against those nasty things?

Back to verse 8.

At night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.

I read that verse again. And again. And I felt like God said: “At night, your strategy is to let me sing over you. When you wake up in the dark, or if you can’t sleep, find joy there, knowing that I take delight in you, and that I am singing.”

Which is, of course, God quoting himself. Zephaniah tells us that God is with us–and that he sings over us, with joy. It’s a passage I’ve marked up time and again in my Bible:

I love the Zephaniah promise. And I love it that Psalm 42:8 calls God’s song a prayer. The psalmist says it is “a prayer for my life.” In other words, when God sings over us, he is praying. Is that not just so cool????

Okay. If you can’t tell, I’m not all that downcast anymore. Because it’s been nearly two weeks since I read Psalm 42, and even though I wake up almost every night (yes, I am OLD), now I do so with joy. Because I wake up…and I picture God singing.

Over me. Over you. Over us.

What joy!

Heavenly Father,

When ____ feels downcast (or even, as the psalm says, “forgotten by” you), would you please remind _____ of your love? Let us trust you by day, looking to your word for direction. And at night, may you quiet us with your love, singing your prayer-song to our hearts. (Psalm 42:8 and Zephaniah 3:17)

Amen

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Book Giveaway for Your Bunny!

People sometimes wonder how they can teach their children to pray.

I get that. Some of us didn’t grow up in homes where we saw prayer modeled, or even talked about. And for a lot of people, prayer can feel like something best left to professional clergy, or to “varsity” Christians like the beloved Billy Graham. People who know how to do it “right.”

As I said, I get that. And I wish I had a sure fire-formula for raising kids to know God and to (as Hebrews 4:16 puts it) “approach his throne of grace with confidence.” I don’t, but I think at least two things can help:

First, let your kids see you pray (even if that feels awkward, at first). If you’ve got children, you know that “Do as I say, not as I do” may sound good, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as “Do as I do.” When it comes to learning and picking up habits, more is caught than taught.

And second, introduce them to Scripture. In his book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller reasons that “we speak only to the degree we are spoken to” and that when our prayers are immersed in the language of Scripture–the words first spoken to us, by God–our lives, and our prayers, find their anchor.

Keller’s book is great, but it’s definitely heady. If you’d rather find the cookies on the bottom shelf (and share them with your children), you might start with something simpler. Something like First Bible Basics or Psalms of Praise, two new board books by Danielle Hitchen and Jessica Blanchard. Robbie and I focus-tested these treasures on our two-year-old niece, and she loved them.

We loved the books, too. And with Easter less than one month away, I can’t think of anything better for the Bunny to pop in a little one’s basket! The books feature colorful illustrations, power-packed verses, and kid-friendly concepts:

They’re also chock full of biblical principles and promises. And honestly? It’s not just the babies who benefit. Feeling anxious? Overwhelmed? Can’t sleep at night? Hold onto Psalm 4:8 as God’s promise for YOU:

If you like the look of these books and you’re interested in winning a set, hop on over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (Jodie Berndt Writes) and leave a comment. We’ll pick three winners at random and announce the names on Monday.

(Dogs, no matter how spiritually curious or astute they may be, are not eligible to win.)

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The Life-Giving Power of Blessing

When George Washington was elected president, he rode to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to tell his ailing mother the news. The conversation reportedly went something like this:

George: Guess what? They want me to be president.

Mom: I’m dying.

George, flustered: Well, as soon as I get settled in New York, I’ll come back and …

Mom: This is the last time you’ll ever see me. But go, do your job. That’s more important.

Can’t you just hear her? As a mom, I know I can.

And I can relate to some of the crazy things that Mary Washington asked of her son. For instance, when George was in the Pennsylvania wilderness, fighting a losing battle against the French (and facing dire shortages in everything from tents and ammunition to clothing and food), Mom wrote a letter requesting that he send her a servant and “some butter.”

I’m sure my kids would say I’ve done worse.

But here’s the thing about Mary. Even though she really was dying (she had breast cancer) and could do nothing, tangibly, to help her boy do his job, she understood the power of words. And as they wrapped up what turned out to be their very last convo, she sent her son off with this charge:

“Go George, fulfil the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended for you; go, my son, and may that Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing be with you always.”

Our words carry blessings and curses. Or, as Proverbs 18:21 puts it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Which kind we speak–words that breathe life, or words that can cripple–is up to us.

And, strange as it sounds, the person our words target doesn’t have to be doing something we like or approve of in order for us to give them a blessing. Grumpy neighbors, irascible co-workers, wayward children—these folks are all candidates for favor. Ma Washington certainly didn’t agree with all of George’s plans and decisions (she told him that joining the Royal Navy was “too dangerous”), and yet she covered her son with life-giving words.

If it seems awkward to bless a child (or anyone else) who does something we don’t like, or who has made a choice that we believe runs counter to God’s commands, consider this: a blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, when we bless our children, we do the same thing God does when he blesses us: He speaks favor over our lives and points us toward the abundant life he wants us to enjoy.

In blessing someone, we turn them over to God, trusting him to give them a vision for using their talents and abilities, as well as a sense of purpose in life. It’s never too early to do this for our children; consider Hannah’s words when she brought her young son Samuel to the temple: “For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28).

Nor is it ever too late.

Mary Washington was 80 years old when George was elected, and she died five months later. I’m sure, though, that her final words stayed with him forever. And I pray that as I parent my own adult children (and call them at work to ask them to help me with Facebook—or at least send me some butter), I would give them the very same gift: The knowledge that “Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing would be with them always.”

Is there someone who could use an encouraging word from you today–maybe a co-worker, a child, or a friend over whom you might speak God’s favor?

Numbers 6:24-26 is one of our family’s favorite blessings (and if you like it too, see below for ordering info). It’s one that Robbie and I prayed with, and for, our children as they were growing up:

Monday is Presidents’ Day. Let’s make these life-giving words our prayer this week, using them to forecast God’s favor over our family, our friends, our co-workers, and–whether you like what he’s doing, or not–the guy who got Washington’s job.

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them. Make your face shine on ______ and be gracious to them. Turn your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

(The image in this post is of a beautifully crafted 5 x 7 print that I purchased in December as a stocking stuffer for our girls. It’s still available from @snowandcompany, and if you’d like to order your own copy, click here. And if you want to read more about blessing and releasing our kids, check out chapter two in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenIt’s available as a free download at jodieberndt.com.)

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Red Roses for Empty Nesters

Not long ago, I talked with a gal who told me that when each of her children turned 21, she sent her husband a dozen red roses. “Nobody was in jail, nobody had gotten pregnant, and nobody had killed anyone,” she said. “I figured that we were done, that we’d made it–and I was ready to celebrate!”

But then her kids’ grown-up lives began, bringing with them a whole new set of issues and concerns, and this sweet mama discovered what generations of moms and dads who’ve gone before know:

You never stop being a parent.

Looking back, my friend laughs at her naiveté. Honestly, though? I think she was onto something. Sure, our grown-up kids will face complex and sometimes life-shaping challenges (“little people, little problems; big people, big problems” and all that), but the promise in Psalm 127:3–that children are a reward from God–doesn’t stop being true when they reach adulthood. And if we wait to celebrate the milestones in our children’s lives until they are tied up with a bow, all pretty and neat, we risk missing out on this gift!

If you’ve read even one or two chapters in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Childrenyou know that most of the folks whose stories appear in the book are still praying about the outcomes in their kids’ lives. They’ve all seen God’s faithfulness at work, and yet none of them would say that the process is “finished.” They are all–we are all–still counting on God’s mercy and his grace.

And we are counting on each other. Truly.

It can be hard, when you hit the empty nest years, to maintain close contact with other parents (I know, for instance, how much I miss the easy, organic connections with friends I made at school fundraisers, or on the sidelines of our kids’ sporting events). That’s one of the reasons I wrote a Study Guide for the book: I wanted moms and dads to be able to understand and apply God’s promises, and I wanted us to have a launching pad to discuss (and to pray) these things–both for our own children, and for other young adults who “belong” to us through the blessing of friendship.

 

(The Study Guide is free; click here to download it from the “Resources” page on my website.)

Let’s not wait to celebrate. Prayer is God’s invitation to us to partner with him in accomplishing his good and redemptive purposes, and he knows exactly what we need (and what our kids need!), even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). So let’s go ahead and slip our hand into God’s, tethering our prayers to his promises.

And with or without the red roses, let’s come alongside other parents who are in our same season, slipping our hands into theirs with mutual encouragement, friendship, and love. Let’s lift up all of our kids, celebrating the fact that even if their bows are not all the way tied (or if, a-hem, they look swaddled in duct tape, like some of the gifts we opened this Christmas), God thinks they are beautiful.

And he is still writing their stories.

🌹

P.S. Speaking of duct tape… I apologize for the delay in this blog (I like to post on Fridays), but it took me a little while to stick the pieces of my heart back together after U.Va.’s performance in the Military Bowl. Really, the only bright spot (apart from the glittering first 12 seconds of the game), was that we lost to Navy. It’s hard to be sore about losing to a bunch of guys who love our country so much.

Congratulations, Midshipmen. And if you can deal with the bad guys half as well as you dealt with the Cavaliers, we’ll all rest easy at night.

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I love Charlottesville. A lot.

I love Charlottesville. A lot.

And, like a jillion other people in our country, my heart hurts over the images of violence and hatred we saw descending upon that city last weekend.

And, like probably every other U.Va. alum and parent, I have received dozens of emails and text messages from school administrators, fellow alumni, and friends – some of whom have no personal connection to the school, but all of whom want to uncover and share a deeper message of reconciliation, understanding, and love.

On the wider message board of national media, there seems to be a fixation with pointing fingers and assigning blame. While I’m all for confronting (and learning from) our mistakes, I would rather focus on that which is good, noble, and lovely – like the marchers in Wednesday night’s vigil, where songs like “Amazing Grace” and chants of “Love wins!” served to scatter the darkness – than on setting our hearts and minds on what’s wrong. As John MacArthur put it in his book, Reckless Faith, “Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing.”

The “real thing” in Charlottesville – and in any place where we want love to win – is Jesus. I won’t pretend to have all the answers (or even a couple of them) to society’s ills, but I am pretty sure that he does.

“Love one another,” he says. “As I have loved you [as in, being willing to give up his position and even his life], so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I could go on, but you get the idea. Whether we are working for love and reconciliation on a national scale, or trying to find a way forward in the face of hurts on a more intimate stage (like in a marriage, or a friendship), these are the sorts of wisdom nuggets that make for lasting and positive change. These are the marks of the real thing.

Our son Robbie starts classes at U.Va. on Tuesday, along with more than 16,000 other undergraduate students. Am I worried about his safety, or about the perspectives he might encounter?

No. Not at all. The University of Virginia represents one of the warmest, most welcoming and inclusive, places I know.

I am, however, praying.

I am praying that Robbie will be devoted to his classmates and teachers, honoring their lives and their needs above his. I am praying for things like wisdom, joy, protection, and peace (to download four of those specific prayers, click here). And I am praying for him – and for myself – in agreement with one of the most beautiful emails I received this week, a forward from my U.Va. classmate, Alexis.

Alexis shared a prayer written by pastor and author, Scotty Smith. To read the whole prayer (in which Smith looks forward to the day when “honoring one another above ourselves will be our delight, not our discipline”), click here. It’s a raw and honest petition, and well worth the read…but if you only have a minute or two, here’s how Smith sums up his plea. Let’s pray this one together:

Jesus, bring the power of the gospel to bear in extraordinary ways in our relationships, churches, and communities. Grant us greater grief and repentance over the ways we love poorly. Stun us, humble us, and gladden us… again and again and again… with glory and grace. There is no other way we’ll change. So very Amen, we pray, with conviction and hope, in your grace-full name.

#Charl♥ttesville

 

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Should You Pray about Fantasy Football?

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Virginia and her friend Chris came home over Labor Day weekend, which I guess must be the kickoff to Fantasy Football season, because at one point Chris excused himself to go “draft” his team. I have no idea how the Fantasy draft works, but I wanted to be supportive, so I told Chris I’d pray for his picks.

If Chris thought that was strange, he didn’t say so. But when another mom (whose son was drafting his team at the same time) heard what I’d done, she lodged a protest. “Does that mean that all of the other guys are gonna get jammed, cuz you prayed for Chris to get the best players?”

I started to say that the other guys were welcome to pray about their draft picks too (or to get their friend’s mothers to pray), but my pal wasn’t finished.

Didn’t I, she wanted to know, think it was a little self-absorbed or shallow to be praying about something like football (and not even real football) when there were people with cancer out there? Wouldn’t my time be better spent praying for them? And was it even right, spiritually, to pray for a sports victory?

I’ve heard those questions (and plenty more, just like them) before.  I remember speaking to a group of young moms and, afterwards, one of them came up and told me what she’d thought of my talk:

“I don’t think it’s right to pray for my kid’s spelling test when there are people who need jobs, or when ISIS is on the loose. I don’t want to be clogging up the lines if somebody with something really important is trying to get through. And if I start praying about stuff like spelling tests, won’t God just think I am bugging him?”

I understand where questions like these come from. It can be easy to think that God is wired like we are, and that he can only handle a certain amount of stuff on his plate at any given time, so he needs to prioritize. But that’s not true, of course. And when we pray, we never bug God. He actually likes to hear from us. When we come to him with our concerns, we demonstrate both obedience (since he tells us to pray) and honor (since what we are essentially doing is acknowledging his lordship over our lives).

As to whether or not it’s okay to pray for life’s little things – fantasy football, spelling tests, and even hair appointments (which one of my friends regularly asks me to pray about, on her behalf) – I don’t know. I think if something matters to us, it matters to God, and if he knows how many hairs are on our heads, you gotta believe he knows whether we’re eyeing Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown at wide receiver. And, just like we don’t mind it when our kids ask us for a puppy, I think God doesn’t mind if we ask him for a win – as long as we leave room for the fact that he might have an even better plan in mind, and that maybe not getting a puppy right now is actually the best way to accomplish his purposes for the people and the teams that we love. (For more on this “pray-and-trust” approach, click here.)

And maybe I take things too literally, but when the Bible says that we can (and even should) pray about anything, at any time, I feel like it’s okay to jump in. Consider just a few invitations:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sings songs of praise. (James 5:13)

There are all sorts of theological reasons for prayer, but at the end of the day, I think the reason why God wants us to pray comes down to this:  God wants us to pray because he loves us. He wants that sense of connection, that fellowship, that relationship that happens when we communicate with him. And as a mom, I get that. I love it when my kids text or call. It’s almost pathetic, actually, how quickly I scramble for the phone. And it doesn’t matter how boring or insignificant the topic is (a recent call involved a discussion on the merits of commando hooks as necklace holders); I love to hear my kids’ voices.

Speaking of…  God doesn’t give a rip how we sound (he’s already heard it all, anyway), so don’t worry if your thoughts come out in a jumble, or you don’t think that you sound “holy” enough to approach him, or that you somehow have to suggest your idea or present your case in a way that will capture his interest. Just jump in and do it…whether it’s for your next draft pick, or for something really important. He is big enough to care about it all.

“Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The Potter and the Clay

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “Really, there’s nothing else we can do. We’re just going to have to trust God.” I’ve said the same thing, myself.

We say that like it’s a last resort, like trusting God is some sort of consolation prize for folks who aren’t strong enough, or clever enough, or well-connected enough to get the job done. Honestly, though, trusting God isn’t just part of our job. It is our job. It marks the beginning, the middle, and the end of every good endeavor.

Sure, we all have stuff to do – works that God has “prepared in advance” – but, at the end of the day, he’s the one who is responsible for outcomes and accomplishments. It doesn’t matter whether the task at hand is monumental or minuscule, if something lines up with God’s good plan, he will get it done. We may pat ourselves on the back, but the credit ultimately belongs to him because, after all, he is the one who works in us to “will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Or, as Isaiah puts it, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

For many of us, though, putting our lives into God’s hands and trusting him with the results can present a bit of a problem. Who knows what the Potter might have in mind? What if we wanted to be a statuesque vase and, in God’s skillful hands, we start to resemble a cereal bowl? I have a whole collection of questionably shaped artifacts from the happy hours my kids spent in art class; what if my life turns out looking like that upside-down turtle shell?

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“A great many Christians seem practically to think that all their Father in heaven wants is a chance to make them miserable and take away all their blessings,” writes one of my favorite vintage authors, Hannah Whitall Smith. It’s true. All too often we think of God as Someone who has a long list of holy-sounding things that we are supposed to do, and an even longer list of fun-sounding things that we aren’t. If we decide to trust him (that is, if we wholeheartedly surrender ourselves – our dreams and our goals, our reputations and our relationships, our work and our play) and say not, “My will be done” but “Thy will be done,” we worry that we’re gonna miss out on the good stuff.

But here’s what Hannah has to say about that:

“Some of us know what it is to love, and we know that could we only have our way, our beloved ones would be overwhelmed with blessings. All that is good and sweet and lovely in life would be poured out upon them from our lavish hands, had we but the power to carry out our will for them. And if this is the way of love with us, how much more it must be so with God, who is love itself! Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure; and we would abandon ourselves to it with and enthusiasm of gratitude and joy, that such a wondrous privilege could be ours.”

Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure.

Isn’t that an awesome sentence? It’s from Hannah’s book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which I recommended in a blog earlier this summer. Her theology reminds me of what Tim Keller wrote in his book, PrayerHe says, “We have the assurance that God, our heavenly Father, always wants the best for his children.” What’s more, Keller writes, you can trust that the Holy Spirit will help shape your prayers (Romans 8:26) and you can “come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

I think that’s pretty cool.

And I’ve been asking God for a lot this summer, as loved ones wrestle with health issues, career moves, relationship challenges, and a whole host of unmet longings. Thanks to Hannah (and also to Keller), I am praying specifically about what I would like to see happen – and then letting God answer according to his best plan. “Thy will be done” is not the prayer warrior’s way of throwing in the towel; rather, it is an acknowledgment that we are incredibly, lavishly loved by a Father who always does immeasurably more than anything we could imagine. It is a recognition that, even though we might not understand God’s ways, we can trust his heart. And it is a signal that we are doing our job – and that we are depending on God to do his.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

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And P.S. if you are wondering why I call Hannah “Hannah” and Keller “Keller,” it’s because I feel like I know Hannah. You know how that is, with some celebrities or authors you admire? You feel like, if you could only have lunch or go on a run with her, you would be good friends. That’s how I feel about Hannah Whitall Smith. Anybody who has four of their seven children die before reaching adulthood, marries a Christian guy who repeatedly cheats on her, gets arthritis so bad that she winds up in a wheelchair, and then publishes a book called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is somebody I want to know.

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Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

 

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Friday Prayer for the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34-18A dear friend and her family are hurting today, grieving the impending loss of a loved one.  I’ve been praying Psalm 34:18 for them; maybe you know someone who could use this verse as a prayer today:

Heavenly Father,

You are close to the brokenhearted and promise to save those who are crushed in spirit.

Be close to _____ today; let her sense the comfort of your nearness.  Wrap your saving arms around _____ to heal and protect her spirit.  (Psalm 34:18)

Amen.

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Good Friday Prayer

Untitled design (4)Good Friday.  It’s the day when Jesus hung on the cross, suffering and alone, and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

I can’t imagine.

You know that song, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us?  There’s a line in there that always undoes me, one that kicks off the second verse:

How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns his face away…

The Father turns his face away.  As I said, I can’t imagine.

Incredibly, though, it is the very agony of abandonment that Christ faced that throws wide the door for us to draw near to God.  There is no pain or betrayal that he does not understand or hasn’t experienced.  And our sin, no matter how ugly or frightening, is never bigger than his obedience.

Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us of all of these things, and more.  Let’s make it our Good Friday prayer, knowing that God will never again turn his face away.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you understand our weaknesses and that you faced all the same testings we do, yet you did not sin.  Remind us, particularly when we feel rejected or forsaken, or when we struggle under the weight of our own inadequacy and failure, that we can come boldly to the throne of our gracious God, where we will receive mercy and find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:15-16, NLT)  

 

(Click here to for the Phillips, Craig, and Dean version of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, written by Stuart Townend.)

 

 

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

So a few weeks ago, I got an email from my rocket scientist of a daughter, the one who just got engaged.  (Whoop! Whoop!)  To those who caught the reference in last week’s blog and then called or emailed to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”, I’m so sorry.  I thought I was the only person who stunk at social media; I figured if I knew the big news, everyone did.

Look.  I’ll make it up to you.  Here’s the photo Hillary’s beloved posted to announce the news:

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(I know that’s not the world’s best shot of Charlie, but trust me:  He’s adorable.)

Anyhow, Hillary has never been the most tidy or organized person, and she was writing to crow about new scientific evidence to indicate that the most creative people actually flourish amid clutter.

I read the article and then, curious, I asked Hillary to send me a snap of her desk at NASA:

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Eeek.

So what’s with the hubcap on the left? I wanted to know.

“That’s not a hubcap,” she told me.  “It’s part of a heat shield.”  (Of course.  I knew that.)

And, um, the tiara?

“My thinking cap.”

I was afraid to ask about the screwdriver.  I mean, if NASA is letting kids who are just two years out of engineering school tighten their nuts and bolts, do we really want to know about it?

I couldn’t live like that.  Heck, I couldn’t last five minutes with that desk.  But Hillary is thriving, and as I studied the photo (longing, I will confess, to get in there with a Hefty Cinch Sak, even if it meant setting the whole “Let’s go to Mars” thing back by a few thousand light years), I was reminded of Psalm 139.  God knows how each one of us is made – messy or clean, wavy or straight, relaxed or uptight – and, in his eyes, we are all wonderful!

So here’s the thing:  If you look at your desk, your house, or your life today and you feel like you just can’t get it together, don’t despair.  God loves you, just the way you are.

Likewise, if you look at your children and you feel like they can’t get it together (not that I know anyone who would worry about their kids’ domestic standards or anything), don’t worry about that, either.  God loves them just the way they are.

Instead of fretting, take a deep breath.  Take a gander at Psalm 139, and let these words permeate your soul:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I praise you because my kids/my spouse/my mother/my friend is fearfully and wonderfully made.

Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  (Psalm 139:14)

Isn’t that, I don’t know…refreshing?

 

(And P.S.:  Even without the hubcap and the tiara, I know that God made Hillary fearfully and wonderfully creative, and I am grateful.  I’m just hoping, as they celebrate Week Two of their blessed engagement, that he made Charlie fearfully and wonderfully good with a vacuum cleaner.)

 

 

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Direction for the Year Ahead: Walk this Way

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a time of relative calm, one that can provide space for reflection as the bustle of the one is pretty much over and the demands of the other have not yet come to call.

Sometimes, sitting here with my coffee and a stale Christmas cookie, I find myself looking back with a pang of regret, thinking of mistakes made or opportunities squandered over the past 12 months. Sometimes I turn my attention forward, making lists and plans and wondering how they will all unfold in the year ahead. In either case—looking back or looking ahead—I am grateful for Isaiah 30:21.

DSC_0226Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

I’ve prayed this verse for my kids as they’ve walked toward relationships, colleges, and careers: “Show them the way to go, Lord. Be the voice that they hear, and keep them on the path you have chosen.”

I’ve also prayed it for myself, both as a request for wisdom or guidance when I don’t know what lies ahead, and as a prayer of relief when I realize that I’ve made a wrong move and I need to get back on track. It’s during those “uh-oh” times that I particularly love how The Living Bible captures the Isaiah promise:

And if you leave God’s paths and go astray, you will hear a voice behind you say, “No, this is the way; walk here.”

Isn’t that encouraging? How blessed are we to have a God who cares so deeply about our lives, who is willing to take us by the hand or whisper in our ear to keep us on the right road! As you look ahead to 2015, it doesn’t matter whether you carry regrets from the past, fears about the future, or a sense of hope and excitement regarding all that is to come. God is paying attention, and he promises to walk alongside you, keeping you on the right path as you listen for his voice.

I have no idea what the new year will bring (other than Annesley and Geoff’s wedding, which reminds me that I need to stop eating cookies and start shopping—ugh—for my MOB dress), but I do know this: I am grateful to serve a God who cares which way I walk, who knows what lies around the next bend, and who is willing to hold my hand, every step of the way.

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Friday Prayer Verse: Let Your Light Shine

Matthew 5-16I don’t know about you, but as the days grow shorter and the darkness comes early, I find myself longing for light.  Any light.  Whether it’s a fire in the fireplace, the twinkle of Christmas lights in the neighbor’s yard, or the glow of a lantern in the snow, light just makes everything better!  No wonder God told us to let our light shine–and here’s a verse you can use to pray for yourself (or for someone you love)  and scatter the darkness with goodness and glory!

Lord Jesus, let ______’s light shine before others, that they may see his/her good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

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Give the Gift of Prayer

photoI’ve already told you that I am not a good shopper (the posture brace featured in Tuesday’s blog is just one in a long line of epic fails), but I’ve found at least one gift that’s pretty much always a winner, whether it’s for my kids, my husband, or anyone else.

Prayer.

Think about it.  Unlike the “My Size” Barbie we gave Annesley one year (whose main selling point seemed to be the ability to “share” her clothes, and whose allure dropped considerably once they came off), prayer is a gift that lasts.  And not only that, but because it taps into the power of a God who is both loving and strong, prayer has the ability to open the door to wisdom and favor, to provide blessings and protection, and to shape and influence lives.  What parent wouldn’t want that for her kids?

One of my favorite ways to pray for my children (or for anyone) is to use Scripture–the actual words and promises you find in the Bible. I do this fairly regularly on an as-needed basis (Ephesians 4:29, which swaps out “ugly talk” for words that bless and help other people, became like a mantra when our kids were young), but each December, I try to ramp it up a notch.  I spend some time thinking about each one of my kids, considering where they are–emotionally, physically, spiritually–and what their deepest needs might be.  I ask God to give me a glimpse of what he wants to do in their lives, and then I find a verse that I can pray throughout the new year.

When Virginia was in the first grade, for example, she had plenty of boldness.  What she lacked–as evidenced by her willingness to tell other youngsters who didn’t believe in Jesus that they were “going to hell”–was tact.  And sensitivity.  And probably a few other things.  I didn’t think God wanted to dampen her evangelistic spirit, but I figured we’d all be better off if he would temper it with a little grace.  I found a perfect prayer tucked into Daniel 12:3:

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I pray that Virginia would be wise, shining like the brightness of the heavens, and that she would lead many to righteousness, and thereby shine like the stars for ever and ever.

Then I did what I always do:  I traced her hand on a piece of colored paper, wrote the verse on it, dated it, and took it to Kinkos to get it laminated so that it could live on the refrigerator for a year, both as a reminder to me to pray and a sign to Virginia that God was working in her life.

And he was.

I don’t want to get all mushy in a blog, but I stand in awe of the way God used that simple prayer to shape a little girl’s life, growing her into a young woman who loves the Lord and who longs to make him known.  She can still be–as her grandfather used to put it–“seldom right, but never in doubt,” but even when she gets her facts mixed up, one thing is certain:  Virginia cares deeply for other people–and thanks to God’s grace, she has learned to love wisely and well.

God has breathed similar blessings into the lives of all of my kids, working in response to the prayers that he prompted.  I no longer post their laminated hands on the refrigerator–they are all young adults, and to be honest, laminated hands look kind of creepy once you get out of elementary school–but I still make them.  And every year, on January 1, I show them to the kids.  It’s pretty cool, because even though all the Christmas presents have been unwrapped (and, if they were from me, most likely returned or exchanged), the kids know that there is still one gift–one good gift–that will grow and bear fruit all year long.

(Need some prayer verse ideas for your family?  You’ll find hundreds of them in my books, Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenswhich are arranged according to topic–just go to the back of whatever chapter interests you and you’ll find all sorts of good promises to pray!)

 

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The Best Christmas Present Ever

My pal Michelle says that shopping is her “spiritual gift.”  Sometimes, when she doesn’t want to sound all holier-than-thou, she just says she was born with “the shopping gene.”  Either way–anointed or genetic–she’s got it.

And I don’t.

And nothing shines the spotlight on my deficiency quite like Christmas.  Every year, I try to get my kids one practical gift, something that they can all use, something that will enrich their lives.  For years, I went with what I considered to be faith-building presents like The One-Year Chronological Bible (I think the best effort only made it through February) and the Navigator’s Topical Memory System (all I can say is that my kids don’t know quality when they see it), and then–because uprightness is not just a spiritual condition–the most inspired gift of all:  The Posture Brace.

The ad promised that the brace was “virtually invisible” and could be “comfortably” worn under clothes.

The ad was wrong.

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Another Christmas fail.

(And Kids, please forgive me for posting this pic.  You know I had to do it.)

How much better off would I be–and how much more grateful my family–if I would just stick with my grandmother’s gift-giving strategy?  She never gave us anything, at least nothing you could wrap.  Instead, she asked us to memorize a Bible verse for her each year and, in return, she promised to pray for us.

I will admit that, as a teenager, I was less-than-enthused by Gammy’s scheme.  I don’t know how I ever memorized any verses, given that my eyes were rolled so far back into my head.  Today, though, many of these nuggets are still locked in, and in terms of things like wisdom and peace and joy I can promise you this:  Her Bible verses have been a far better (and infinitely more comfortable) support system than even the most “stylish” posture brace!

And, while I will never know the full impact of her prayers, I am confident that Gammy’s gift to her grandchildren opened the door to all measure of divine protection, favor, insight, and blessing in our lives.  As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather give my children.

I’m going to write more about the gift of prayer in my next post–and I’ll show you an idea that my kids actually did (and still do) like–but for now, would you just say a prayer for me?  I haven’t yet picked this year’s group gift, and I’d be much obliged if God (who, according to Matthew 6:11, actually knows how to give “good gifts”) would weigh in with some ideas.

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Friday Prayer Verse for Hope, Joy, and Peace

Romans 15-13

 

Insert your name, or the name of someone you love, into the blanks in today’s prayer verse for hope, joy, and peace:

Heavenly Father, you are the God of hope.  Fill  ______ with all joy and peace as he/she trusts in you, so that _____ may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

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Friday Prayer Verse ~ Psalm 5:11-12

Lots of people post “Friday Favorites.”  I’ve picked up shopping tips from Melanie Shankle, followed Kate’s pregnancy the eyes of new mom Elizabeth Robertson Williams, and snagged more than a couple of good recipes from any number of Friday bloggers.  But, not being much of shopper (or a royal watcher; has Kate had that baby), you won’t find those types of good tips here.  And while I might share a recipe once in awhile, I currently conducting experiment to prove to Robbie that eating out–if you find the right “deal”–might actually be cheaper than cooking at home, now that it’s just the two of us.  (Wish me luck.)

When I use the word “favorite,” it is often in the context of a Bible verse.  Some people have their “life verse,” and they can tell you what it means to them, and why.  Not me.  I have any number of Bible “favorites,” and they change almost daily.

For me, then, Friday is going to be the day when I post whatever principle or promise has captivated my heart that week.  And, banking on promises like John 15:7 (“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you”) and Isaiah 55:11 (which tells us that God’s word does not return empty, but accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent), I will offer these verses in the format of prayers, with blanks where you can insert your own name, or that of someone you love.

I hope you enjoy praying this way, and that these words will serve to strengthen your faith and increase your joy.  I hope they will transform your perspective and breathe fresh hope into weary or challenging situations.  And I hope, actually, that some of these verses will become your new favorites.

Here goes:

Spread your protection over ____ and bless him/her.  Surround ____ with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

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